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Image courtesy of Ottawa Fringe Festival

Fringe Review: Josephine, A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play

By Jennifer Cavanagh on June 15, 2018

Tymisha Harris in ‘Josephine’. Photo: Roberto Gonzalez.

Josephine, A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play
by Tymisha Harris, Michael Marinaccio, and Tod Kimbro
Dynamite Lunchbox Entertainment

90 min / Drama, Historical, Musical / Mature

Josephine is a work of dreamlike beauty with a bewitchingly intimate quality that chronicles the life of the astonishing Josephine Baker in a one-woman performed first-hand narrative.

Tymisha Harris, co-creator, choreographer and costume designer, embodies the emotional scars left by the poverty and stark racism that marked Baker’s childhood in Missouri providing a springboard to her acclaimed career. Her palpable fearless joy at the sensational reception on the stages of Paris and her ardent love for her adopted homeland are scarred by the discrimination that haunts her life, regardless of international acclaim and ground-breaking interracial relationships, igniting her passion for civil rights.

The language of racism and activism in this co-creation with Director Micheal Marinaccio and Musical Director Tod Kimbro is chilling and evocative. “The sound of metal on bone”, “I was always running”, “always saying yes.” The fear and desperation that drove Baker and propelled her determination is vivid in Harris’s expressive delivery and fluttering false-lashes.

Harris’s song and dance skills are riveting while her acting reaches unexpected heights revealing darker depths, saucy humour and a steely conviction in Baker’s lives and many, many loves.

The intimate dressing room set has a wonderous confessional quality. The back-lit costume changes including a shadow dance performance which maintains the connection and pace of the show.

Harris doesn’t so much recreate as re-illuminate exceptional Baker’s performance—including the “Banana Dance” which sealed her fame—the ebullient quality of all Harris’ performance is firmly rooted in the very moment of delivery. Under Marinaccio’s direction, Harris connects fully with her audience—transforming a distant fabled figure in to a flesh and bone engaged force of nature by conveying a startlingly authentic mix of bravado and giddy energy.

Harris gushes with passion whether playfully interacting with her audience, bathed in the spotlight holding a heart stopping note or relating horrid discrimination endured in return visits to America. Her compelling presence brings, without dialogue, past history in to focus with contemporary culture. The blacklisting of Baker as a communist in the 50s, following her outspokenness over the New York City Stork Club’s refusal to serve her, heartbreakingly echoes Colin Kaepernick’s career knee-capping.

The timing and control of Harris’s performance is remarkable. She radiates a warmth and extends a naked honesty far beyond the raciness of showgirl costumes, bringing her audience the closest they will ever get to the fascinating Baker. Her performances of “The Times they are a Changing”, “Strange Fruit” and “La vie en Rose” are unforgettable.

Even a dodgy breast pasty protecting her modesty on opening night couldn’t diminish her swagger. Harris simply took each moment in her stride, like Baker, owning her stage, in a mesmerizing tour de force performance.


Josephine, A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play by Tymisha Harris, Michael Marinaccio, and Tod Kimbro is being performed in Academic Hall inside University of Ottawa (133 Séraphin-Marion Pvt) until Saturday June 23, 2018. Tickets Cost $12. Visit ottawafringe.com for the schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe.