Josephine Baker lived a colorful life. She played more roles on earth then she did on film. She was a French Spy, mother of 12, fierce, civil rights activist, exhibitionist, a jazz icon, acclaimed dancer, and shared sexual escapades with the top female and male artists of our time. Frankly, she deserves the title of legend because, as Tymisha Harris proves in Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play, she lived legendarily.
Tymisha Harris meticulously crafted a performance that makes her voice, body, and overall person scream, “JOSEPHINE!”, which in others words means, “Star!”, Harris makes sure to show that from her beginning, Baker was destined for more. She had the sparkling personality and remarkable knowledge that in life the most important desire is happiness. “I want to be happy”, is a line most repeated in the play, and the one that struck with admiration for Ms. Baker. She was aware that, especially as a young, black woman, her opportunities to live a fruitful, fabulous life in the early 1900’s were slim. Harris, who created the play, begins Josephine’s origins as a young girl, during the Race Riots, stuck cleaning “white people’s homes” and insinuating she had been sexually assaulted by older men. Baker is innocent in her eagerness to shine that her black beauty, though disrespected in this world, is a badge of honor for her.
With book and musical direction by Tod Kimbro and directed by Michael Marinaccio, Tymisha Harris is LITERALLY GOLD on stage. She is incredibly charming and sweet, especially as she runs through the audience forming bonds with us, individually, as if we are Baker’s family. She dances, flirts, and sings to us like we are the stars of her dream, burlesque play, which is, in some ways, the most Josephine things she does.If there was one thing Josephine adored, it was a crowd. She longed for their cheers and unabashed praise; reveling in being known as The Jazz Cleopatra. Yet, it was that same obsession for love that led her to some bad relationships. Still, Harris does not play Baker’s multiple affairs as “crazy wild” or “too promiscuous” as history tries to present them. Instead, Baker is simply someone who says “Yes!” to every idea, person, and experience in life with care for consequences, but enough resilience to survive them anyway.
As I witnessed the openness of Josephine Baker to life, I felt challenged to analyze mine. Why do we all say “No!” to so many adventures, even the ones we want? Maybe, because, unlike Josephine, we have no idea how strong we have and could be. Baker was a STRONG woman, and, by the end of her life, for all the ups and downs, she was a happy one. For 75 minutes, Harris makes you laugh, cry, get angry, and get protective over Baker. She uses music and dance only to further the spiritual highness of Josephine, as a human being whom uncannily brought joy from her desire to absorb it. For More Information On Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play Click Here.