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A CurtainUp Review
The Sensational Josephine Baker
The Sensational Josephine Baker begins with Baker's triumphant return to the stage at The Bobino Theater on April 8, 1975, four days before her death at 69. The story of her rise from an exuberant but unwanted child in St. Louis (she was raised mostly by her grandmother) to stardom in Paris by way of New York is told in a series of flashbacks punctuated by the reflections of many of the people who watched Baker blaze her path.
Videos projected upstage and a trunk containing various costumes aid in the telling of the story. But it is the guiding hand of director Ian Streicher that gives the show its cohesion. Howard moves effortlessly from her loving grandmother to the friends and foes who helped or hindered her along her way.
Best realized are the scandalized Lydia Jones, a fellow chorus girl who cannot understand what the French see in this "tall, wiry nightmare with buck teeth",and Ada "Bricktop" Smith the Parisian nightclub owner who tries to warn Baker against looking for love with all the wrong men.
Howard leans heavily on the racial issues that informed much of Baker's life: the St. Louis race riots, the racism of American tourists in Paris, Baker's inability to become a star in her own country, and Baker's own feelings of racial inferiority. But the show, like Josephine Baker herself, manages to surmount these issues and in the end, reveals this larger-than-life personality in all her glory.
Howard , who has a fine, well-trained voice, is most impressive when she is singing Baker's signature songs such as "J'ai deux amours," something she does too infrequently. She would do even better if she had a mic.
With a life as full as Josephine Baker's, there is much that by necessity must be left out in a show that is a mere hour and 25 minutes. But surely some mention could have been made of Baker's undercover work for the French Resistance during World War II, her involvement in the American Civil Rights Movement and her "Rainbow Tribe" of children she adopted from all over the world.
However, to point out how this show could be made better in no way should take away from all that it does quite well. The Sensational Josephine Baker takes a heartfelt look at a woman who captured the heart of many people whom she touched both personally and professionally. It is surely time Baker became as beloved in her native land as she remains in her adopted land.