Tymisha Harris stars in this one woman tour-de-force of a show, which treats the audience to vocal, dance, and burlesque performances that Baker was known for. But the storytelling bits in between give us a glimpse into the troubled, yet charmed life Baker lived. She left home at 13 when she married for the first time and decided to be an entertainer. Another marriage would follow at 15 before she was whisked away to Paris to perform — in the nude. Still, it was overseas where Baker would find fewer racial barriers in the 1920s and 30's, and enjoyed much success. So when her third husband convinced her to return to her native land, and it ended in heartbreak, she returned yet again to Paris.
Baker would go on to star in movies, become a spy during World War II for France (“they didn’t strip-search celebrities or exhibitionists,” she jokes) and adopt 12 children of different ethnicities with her fifth husband. It’s truly hard to fathom how one person could do so much in her lifetime.
As Baker, Harris fully embraces her energetic, carefree, and flirtatious spirit, even teasing the audience at times, ruffling one gentleman’s hair, and having another hook her feathered bra in the back. She is truly a captivating storyteller, and singer. Harris croons several melodies from the time with a smooth, soulful voice. She shakes and shimmies across the stage with such joie de vivre, especially when dressed in Baker’s signature banana-adorned girdle. While many of the numbers are upbeat and fun, others are more somber, particularly towards the end of the show when Baker became involved in the Civil Rights movement.
Baker was truly ahead of her time. She shattered stereotypes of race and gender. She danced in men’s clothing before the word “drag” had been invented. She had relationships with (many) men and women when accepted sexuality was still very much binary. She loved and lived with reckless abandon, and this show not only gloriously celebrates that spirit, but encourages others to do so as well.
Josephine, a burlesque cabaret dream play will be performed again Saturday, September 21, at 9 p.m. at the School of the Arts: Allen Main Stage Theatre. Tickets are $20. Appropriate for ages 18 and over.