By Ernece B. Kelly
The triple-threat Actress Tymisha Harris–singing, dancing, and narrating–pulsates at the center of the vibrant biopic-musical, “Josephine.” (Audiences gave her a well-deserved standing ovation when the performance ended. She admitted fears that only 30 folks would show up!)
Opening with a thrilling rendition of “Two Loves Have I” sung in English and (impeccable) French, Harris quickly moved to details of Baker’s early life in St. Louis focusing on the 1917 race riot during which she recalls running for her life. “Part of me seems to think I’ve never really stopped”.
And highlights of her life bear this out–acting in minstrel shows at age 15–fed up with Jim Crow America, she leaves–performing in Paris where she felt “liberated”–joining Ziegfield Follies in New York City only to be booed–becoming a French spy during WW II–adopting 12 children–and returning to the United States to speak at the 1963 March on Washington.
Thoughtful pacing by Director Michael Marinaccio (Festival Producer of Orlando, Florida Fringe) allows each life event ample development and Tod Kimbro’s musical direction provides high quality recordings to back-up Harris’ vocalizing.
Her slow, sensuous dance performed with huge feathered fans to Nat King Cole’s “Autumn Leaves” is alone, worth the price of admission!
And it’s her performance that beats at the heart of this 75 minute show.
Animated while singing, she makes numerous, practically seamless costume changes, toys with male audience members to their obvious delight, and her vocal range allows her to convincingly do the silly ditty, “Don’t Touch Me Tomatoes” (complemented by an equally silly Carmen Miranda outfit) then sing that powerful song made famous by Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit.”
“Josephine” is a well-written, exquisitely performed story of an astonishing woman challenging gender and race expectations/barriers to live life on her own terms. “Josephine” is at the SoHo Playhouse in Lower Manhattan and closes on February 11th.
Josephine Baker (left) is played by Actress Tymisha Harris (right)