It was an ambitious choice to portray the life story of Josephine Baker through a one-woman show — one that can be seen Jan. 25 at the Northshore Performing Arts Center in Bothell.
The show, “Josephine,” follows Baker as her talent and jaw-dropping beauty propelled her into the life of an international celebrity and one of the most prominent African-Americans of her time.
When racism thwarted her career in the United States, she moved to France in the 1920s. By 1927, she was earning more than any entertainer in Europe, according to her official online biography.
She served in the French resistance during World War II, only to return to the United States in 1951 and be denied service at the famous Stork Club in New York City.
Later, she was active in the civil rights movement. She was one of the few women who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, according to the National Women’s History Museum.
Three people worked together to bring Baker’s life to the stage, and thereby to a new generation: Michael Marinaccio, director and producer, Tod Kimbrol, musical director, and Tymisha Harris, who portrays Baker.
“It just made complete sense we should get her story out,” Harris said. “It got lost. It was time.”
Harris has been an entertainer for 20 years, working as a dancer, in choreography and as a member of the national touring company of the musical “Rock of Ages.”
The show’s music is performed differently than the way Baker sang, who was known for her high tonal pitch, Harris said.
“I’m an alto,” she said. “I was able to modernize what she did and make it work for me.”
The show’s 12 songs mostly are standards that were sung by Baker.
“Josephine” debuted in 2016 at the San Diego Fringe Festival. That was the same year as the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Florida that left 50 people dead. A song from the show, Baker’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” is dedicated to that event and victims of gun violence everywhere, Harris said.
“For me, that song is talking to everyone right now,” she said.
The show has been performed some 160 times. It is billed as a burlesque, cabaret and dream play. One scene invites the audience into Baker’s boudoir, Marinaccio said.
Although Baker performed topless in 1920s France, there are no nude scenes in the production. There are some adult themes regarding Baker’s relationships, said John Lehrack, managing director at the performing arts center.
“I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone younger than 16, but that’s up to the parents,” he said.
The show was selected for the arts center’s schedule in part because it’s different than the rest of the season, which is mostly concerts and dance events. “It’s the only theater-like show we have this season,” he said.
Not only was Baker a great performer, he said, she was important in the resistance movement of World War II and the first black performer to be in a major motion picture — the 1934 French film “Zouzou.”
Being able to perform Baker’s story, knowing the struggles the entertainer endured, “transforms me … and gives me power and confidence,” Harris said.
She said she hopes that after seeing the show , you will want to go home and learn more about Baker’s life.
“A lot of the quotes we say in the show are actually Josephine’s words,” Harris said. “We’re giving you a piece of history as we do the show.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or email@example.com.
If you go
“Josephine,” a one-woman musical about Josephine Baker , with Tymisha Harris in the title role, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Northshore Performing Arts Center, 18125 92nd Ave. NE, Bothell. Tickets are $42 for adults, $35 for seniors and military and $15 for youth. Call 425-298-3449 or go to tinyurl.com/JosephineNSPAC