Tymisha Harris is magnetic in this hugely entertaining biographical play about the first African-American to take her 30s-era stardom global
JOSEPHINE, A BURLESQUE CABARET DREAM PLAY by Tymisha Harris, Michael Marinaccio and Tod Kimbro (Lil Theatre Company). At the Randolph Theatre. July 7 at 5:45 pm, July 8 at 3 pm, July 10 at 8:45 pm, July 11 at 7 pm, July 13 at noon, July 14 at 1:45 pm. See listing. Rating: NNNN
The ingredients that elevate a star into that elusive It category are at Tymisha Harris’s command. The choreographer, singer and actor embodies the role of Josephine Baker, the first African-American to take her 30s-era stardom global, in this solo musical about her life.
Whether she’s capturing the naiveté of a teenaged Baker or the wizened weariness of the artist as an older woman, Harris is magnetic. She even plays the coquette with a surprising bit of audience participation, which had one young man blushing on opening night.
Harris brings an immense physicality to the role. With the flash of her eyes or the statuesque movements of her hands or hips, she signals Baker’s feelings in scenes dripping in sex appeal or descending into sadness. One mesmerizing piece – a burlesque feather fan dance – communicates both qualities.
Even as it’s highly entertaining (and funny), the play never loses sight of the racism Baker endured.
The audience whooped as Harris donned Baker’s signature banana girdle for a sprightly dance number. But the actor leaves the girdle crumpled near the foot of the stage, a powerful reminder that for all her complexity, Baker was seen as the “savage on stage.”