Time continues to speed along/drag infuriatingly (depending, I think, on whether you’re performing or watching) towards the 2018 OTTAWA FRINGE FESTIVAL, starting in less than a week now. One of the new pieces being brought to Ottawa this year is one I’d already caught some buzz about on the interwebs, and was very much stoked to see. I was even more delighted when their team reached out to me for some bloggity preview action. I am unworthy for this one, folks, as time will tell, but here I go!
JOSEPHINE: A BURLESQUE CABARET DREAM PLAY comes at us from Dynamite Lunchbox Entertainment out of good old Orlando, USA. It debuted in 2016 at the San Diego Fringe, where it started winning its first awards and accolades and never looked back, going on to crush it in Winnipeg, New York, and back home in Orlando. Now they’re swinging back up our way and kicking off a summerlong North American tour right here in Ottawa! And even though they’ll be playing Academic Hall, Fringe’s biggest venue in these parts, I’d look into getting tickets early, because the words ‘sell out’ follow this show like its own personal shadow.
The show itself tells the tale of the legendary Josephine Baker. Born in 1906, Baker didn’t get much attention in her native US of A but became a sensation after moving to Europe where she was (among other things) a celebrated singer as well as actress, starring in films like LA SIRENE DES TROPIQUES, ZOU ZOU And PRINCESSE TAM-TAM.
The show stars Tymisha Harris in the title role, a veteran performer, multiple award winner, and former backup dancer for N*Sync (seriously, you can’t put stuff like that in your press release and not expect EVERYONE to use it). She’s also toured with Rock of Ages and the Pilobulus Dance Theatre Company, and is a founding member of Orlando troupe VarieTease. “It’s amazing to me how little most people know about her,” she told me when I asked her what people should know about Josephine Baker, “…so I think it’s time that she (along with so many other amazing women of color) got her due. She was a groundbreaking Artist in so many ways, from her pioneering of burlesque and drag to her starring across from white leading male romantic leads in French films in the 1930’s. She was fearless in her work and her life.”
Michael Marinaccio, the show’s director and producer (and by the by, also producer of the Orlando Fringe Festival), seems to concur. “I think the things that really resonate most with audiences today are her altruistic and humanitarian achievements. She was a spy for the French Resistance during WWII, a civil rights pioneer in America in the 1940’s and 1960’s, and the adopted mother of 12 children. It’s almost unbelievable, the life that this remarkable woman lived.“
Apparently the pair started work originally on a show about Tina Turner (and I hope that idea will return to the drawing boards before too long, who’s with me?), until someone mentioned Baker’s name and everything changed. “I have loved Josephine since I saw the 1991 HBO movie “The Josephine Baker Story” with Lynn Whitfield,” Tymisha noted, “…and she has been an inspiration to me for my entire career.” Marinaccio tells that, after a research period into Baker’s life, they brought on playwright and musical director Tod Kimbro, and the show debuted less than a year afterwards.
Now, I did NOT ask which periods of Josephine Baker’s life would be covered in the show, or how, because I wanna find out the proper way, from the audience. But from all the buzz, and the obvious heart that has gone into it, it’s going to be amazing. I asked Tymisha what she thought Josephine might be doing if she were still around today. “She would be on the front lines of the civil rights and human rights movements around the world,” she said, “…Hopefully, though this show, we can carry a little bit of that mantle for her.“
JOSEPHINE: A BURLESQUE CABARET DREAM PLAY premieres at the Ottawa Fringe Festival at Academic Hall on June 14th. Full schedule and ticket info can be found HERE. See you all around the Fringe, gang. Peace, love and soul,