“Some of you may know this, but I have diverse tastes.”
Frida Kahlo, Karl Vollmoeller (playwright), Picasso, Hemmingway, E.E. Cummings (his name says it all) were all lovers of Josephine Baker, who died in 1975. This astonishing woman was a teenage bride (twice), topless dancer, toast of Europe, singer, movie star, richest black woman in the world, French spy and American civil-rights activist.
Tymisha Harris, brings Ms. Baker to life with an exhilarating energy that flies off the stage and into the audience. Part of that continuance from stage to audience, has to do with the Michael Marinaccio’s direction and book writer/musical director Tod Kimbro. All three of these multi-talented artists created the show Josephine Baker: a burlesque cabaret dream play.
“I was running … always running,”states Ms. Baker and through Ms. Harris’s emotionally stirring performance, we see the woman who captured countless lovers, 5 husbands and adopted a tribe of 12 rainbow children.
She left a racially segregated America, for Paris to become the toast of the town. Her trademark was exhibitionism, backed by comedy, mad dance skills and a passable voice that grew with time. Untrained Ms. Baker grew into a performer that captured continents. As America stayed prejudice Ms. Baker used her voice for good. During the war, Josephine used her talent to help her country against the Nazi’s. Her lingerie became her concealment. Invited by Martin Luther King, she spoke at his iconic Washington, D.C. rally, Baker sang “Strange Fruit” and later “The Times They Are A-Changin” with such emotion, that it was captivating.
Ms. Harris is also the costume designer and these are truly fabulous and inactive of the era. She is also the choreographer and Baker’s topless “Banana Dance,” which catapulted her to fame in 1927, is dynamic.
“Blue Skies”, “Then I’ll Be Happy”, “Minnie The Moucher”, “Afraid To Dream”, “Autumn Leaves”, “Don’t Touch Me Tomatoes”, “Then I’ll Be Happy” and “La Vie En Rose”, make up the rest of the score.
“I was running … always running,” Baker tells us, and we see that restless energy in Harris’s eyes. Ms. Baker died broke, living in Grace Kelly’s apartment in France, after her final comeback. She was given a standing ovation and good reviews. It was a fitting end to a life.
Josephine Baker: a burlesque cabaret dream play: Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St. until Feb. 18th.