I was caught dreaming of Josephine Baker at an Olde Walkerville Theatre Burlesque Show and it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.
Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play is the perfect title to the one-woman show about Josephine Baker that’s currently on at Old Walkerville Theatre until Saturday. It literally felt like we were transported into a dream world created by actress Tymisha Harris. She crafted Josephine into the most captivating performance I have ever seen.
It literally took 20 seconds for Harris to suck me into Josephine’s world. She not only captured the physical essence and beautify of Josephine, but she somehow managed to seize the charisma that we’ve heard Josephine had on her French audiences. Harris somehow mastered the minute details of her movements, from a soft flick of wrist to a slight wiggle of her behind, it felt as if Josephine was there herself at the Olde Walkerville Theatre telling her story.
And what a fitting venue to tell the life story of the Goddess of Burlesque. The theatre had its beginnings in the 1920s as the city’s vaudeville/burlesque site. The set was simple, with one section of the stage dedicated to a home setting with a comfy chair and some clothes dangling on racks, while the opposite side served as a dressing room area where a lot of the behind the scenes dialog takes place. The centre of the stage was reserved for reproductions of Josephine’s song and dance routines – and we got a few of the famous ones – from the infamous and sexy banana dance to the glorious performances of Blues Skies and Don’t Touch My Tomatoes.
Josephine really gets her props in this show. It’s a grand telling of her life story that touches on almost all aspects of her life, including her famous nude dances, her singing and movie career, her many love affairs including her passion for America, as well as her later years as an activist for the rights of African Americans. There’s also a brief discussion about her life as a French spy during the Second World War, when she would smuggle secret photos of German military installations out of enemy territory by hiding them in her underwear.
And yup, we got to see that underwear and a bit more too. Harris spent a lot of the show dressing and undressing in and out of some of the most celebrated costumes of Josephine’s career. We saw the banana skirt, the feathery bras, the glamourous dresses and the silky gowns that made her famous. Harris also had quite a few scenes where she was only dressed in fishnet stockings, black underwear and sparkly pasties, much of which was so casual, it felt like we were part of the story just hanging out with Josephine as she told her story. This show was so engaging and entertaining that the nudity and sexuality seemed as natural as could be and was probably about as true-to-life as the real Josephine would have been. I would imagine Josephine would have been proud of the way she was portrayed in this show.
This is a great show for Windsor, especially with its deep history as part of the Underground Railroad. It celebrates the life of Josephine, but it also sheds a little insight into the racial difficulties we had in North America throughout the 1900s. You could see how important this was for Harris, especially when she talked about Josephine’s return to America. In one scene she cringes when she talks about how she had to enter her hotel at the back, even though she was the richest black woman in the world.
After the show, I had to check out some of the real clips of Josephine on YouTube and it quickly became obvious that Harris nailed it in every regard. She had the look, the voice, the body and the moves mastered – she really was the personification of Josephine. And that’s what made the show so captivating – I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it.
Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play was written by Tymisha Harris, Michael Marinaccio, and Tod Kimbro. The Windsor show features a live band, which made its debut on Thursday night.
There seems to be a resurgence at the Olde Walkerville Theatre. There’s a lot of work going on there to once again make it one of the premiere venues in the city. From the gorgeous marque sign gracing the front to comfy air conditioning throughout, the grand old lady is receiving a makeover suitable for a Queen. With all this resurgence going on, it’s rather fitting that on the year of its 100th anniversary, the Olde Walkerville Theatre is taking a dramatic step back into its history with Josephine.
If you only see one show this year, make Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play the one to watch. www.oldewalkervilletheatre.com.