The life story of Josephine Baker is coming to Broadway in Josephine. The new musical is based on the life of the iconic singer, dancer and actress. This week, R&B singer Deborah Cox portrayed the late Baker in a series of New York City musical workshops, preparing for the show’s anticipated spring 2012 arrival.
The producer of Josephine, Kenneth Waissman, revealed this musical is a project which began decades ago.
“About 20 years ago Suzanne de Pass and Motown sent me an original copy of Josephine Baker’s biography, written by her manager. They wanted to option the biography for a Broadway musical starring Diana Ross. I said to Suzanne, I didn’t think Diana Ross would commit to 2 year contract, and ultimately she didn’t. 20 years later I am going through an old box and I re-read the biography and I saw how it could have life today as a Broadway show. And I said “Okay I’m gonna do this musical.”
Baker was born June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri. By the age of eight, the singer was working as a maid in the homes of white families. By 12, she dropped out of school and began singing and dancing on street corners in St. Louis. Baker was soon recruited for the chorus in a St. Louis Vaudeville show. She eventually came to New York City and headlined at numerous venues during the Harlem Renaissance.
During her time performing abroad in the 1930’s, the songstress quickly became one of the most successful American Entertainers in Europe. Throughout her career the songstress supported the American Civil Rights Movement and protested against racism. Baker’s compassion was exemplified through her twelve adopted multi-ethnic orphans, who she called the “Rainbow Tribe.” Days after performing in a 1975 Paris retrospective revue of her career, the singer died in her sleep.
According to Playbill, the musical is “inspired by actual events, and take place in Paris between 1939 and 1945; Josephine Baker is queen of the Paris music halls, involved in a liaison with Crown Prince Gustav VI of Sweden and secretly serving her adopted country in the French Resistance. Her heroic work during the war brings her the self-worth she so vainly sought in fame, money and the arms of royalty.”
Baker is fondly remembered for her love of animals and was known to frequently perform on stage with cheetah and her pet monkey in tout. “We would love to have a live cheetah or panther to be in the show, that all depends on the staging and logistics, but we do plan to have a trained chimpanzee that we can use on the Broadway stage to play her pet.” Waissman said.
This is not Deborah Cox’s first time taking on a lead role in a Broadway Musical. The R&B singer starred in the title role of Aida on Broadway in 2004.
Waissman says that that choosing Deborah Cox to star as Josephine Baker was easy, “She came in for the audition and walked in wearing a very Josephine Baker wig. By the end of the audition she had danced, she had sung, and she had acted, superbly. We all looked at each other and said, “she’s our Josephine.”
Josephine publicist Shirley Hers says that Cox is expected to reprise her role in the Broadway production anticipated for the spring of 2012.