Michael On...

Explosive. That is the worD for Cush Jumbo’s talent and the energy that she brings to the stage in “Josephine and I,” playing at The Public Theater through April 5th. Ms. Jumbo, who was recently seen opposite Hugh Jackman in “The River” as well as in an all female production of “Julius Caesar,” proves that indeed you can have it all, but that it rarely happens.

This one-woman play, written and performed by Ms. Jumbo, tells the tale of legendary African American chanteuse and performer Josephine Baker and her rise from humble beginnings in St. Louis to becoming the toast of Paris to the civil rights movement and all the ups and downs that life can bring. It also encapsulates how Ms. Baker became such an inspiration for Ms. Jumbo, who is biracial, when she randomly saw one of her movies on television in England as a child. The play manages to tell both women’s stories and interweaves them seamlessly, including what it’s like to be a young talented actor waiting to be noticed and getting just the right part.

Ms. Jumbo switches characters with only the slightest of costume changes—a feathered fan here, a hat there. Every accent, every age and both male and female roles are all perfectly captured.

The show closes with Josephine singing a very plaintive, anguished version of Bob Dylan’s classic anthem “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” What an amazing way to end a brilliant night at the theater, to remember that as much as things changed during Ms. Baker’s life, things continue to evolve and change now. Forward motion.

The production has been fabulously directed, sharply and stylishly, by the talented Phyllida Lloyd, who has done everything from directing “Mamma Mia” and “The Iron Lady” onscreen, to “Threepenny Opera” and Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” onstage. Seeing this kind of talent up close in an intimate space like Joe’s Pub makes it even more special.

*As a sidenote, to continue the Josephine Baker experience, go and eat at Chez Josephine on West 42nd street, a longtime theater haunt, owned by one of her adopted sons, Jean-Claude, who recently passed away. The place is still filled with both his and his mom Josephine’s spirit.


For more information on "Josephine And I"