Josephine By Tod Kimbro
Directed by Michael Marinaccio
Starring Tymisha Harris
The Venue, Orlando, FL

Pick a letter, and there’s probably a dead celebrity with a one person show bringing them back to life. Tonight we explore the music and songs of Josephine Baker, French vedette and one of the first African Americans to achieve world renown on stage. The actor supporting her is dancer and local chanteuse Tymisha Harris, and as in all good shows she’s a good physical match as well as a gifted singer and performer.

The Venue stage is an excellent cabaret for this adventure; various period coat racks offer the artist multiple on stage costume changes as Baker ages from precocious street kid to world renowned entertainer to civil rights activist. Baker grew up in racist turn of the century St Louis; career choices included servant, toilet cleaner, and social pariah. A lucky encounter with a French promoter took her to Paris where skin color was a novelty, not a brand and she became show biz wealthy. That is, lots of money when money came in, crushing yet genteel poverty when it stopped flowing.

There’s a good balance between chanteuse and historian here, and every tune was a grand revelation. “April in Paris,” “Bye, Bye, Blackbird,” “Minnie the Moocher” and “Blue Sky” were highlights, but the show stopper was “The Times They Are A-Changin.” Today it’s a sort of period piece, but when backed up by her back story it’s a block buster.

Inside this intimate space Harris was never far from the audience. I won’t say she sat in my lap, but we did negotiate a deal by eye contact. Don’t worry ladies, it was just part of the show. Best of all, producer Marinaccio beat The Venue’s notorious sound into shape. If only every show sounded the clean I’d be there more often. Josephine presents a great story, a great voice and all in a great setting. Josephine est un grand triomphe!

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