A Day in the Life of Josephine Baker
written & performed by Sloan Robinson
directed by Joyce Maddox
J.E.T. Studios, NoHo
plays until February 29 on select dates.
Singer/dancer/showgirl Josephine Baker (born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906) tintillated audiences worldwide with her banana dance and became the sensation of Paris, France, her permanent home once she renounced her American citizenship in 1937. Her life in the US was hardly an easy one, victimized by racial injustice since childhood. Despite her fame, she had even been thrown out of the prestigious Stork Club in New York, due to color constraints. Now in a two-act solo show that includes song, dance and anecdotes, classy Sloan Robinson portrays the uniquely sensual Baker with unmistakable style.
Act I is loosely structured with Baker telling us of a possible biography of her life, as she talks to a picture of her mama filling her in on her career highs and lows, segments of her life that the mother has not been privy to. Since her mother did come to live with her and her 12 children in the south of France in later years, talking to her mother from the top does not provide a strong enough reason for reminiscing. Perhaps an interview for the biography would work better! Interspersed with the stories she shares are 2 songs "Hello Young Lovers" and "J'ai Deux Amours", and of course, the infamous banana dance replete with flashy banana belt. All of Robinson's costumes are scrumptious to look at and are designed by Naila Aladdin Sanders, but there does not seem to be a real reason to make a couple of the changes, for no song or major story follows said change: she simply puts on and then takes off the costume. It is a lovely costume parade, definitely fun and appealing to watch, and Robinson seems to literally slide in and out of them with such ease and finesse! Musical director Aeros Pierce is at the piano throughout, and it seems a shame, since she is there, that Robinson performs only 2 numbers in Act I and one in Act II!
Act II really cooks, as Baker sings at the Palladium in London, confides a heartfelt story about her racially mixed adopted children, all of whom live together in her Chateau. She then juts back to the very beginning in St. Louis, talks about how she got caught up as a young girl in the racial riots of 1917, and how she finally got out of St. Louis as maid to Bessie Smith. How she met Smith is one fabulous anecdote, in which Robinson shows her acting versatility in essaying all the characters. This whole Act that ends with a film montage of the real Baker on screen is just great!
With some repair to Act I and with the addition of more songs, Bananas will become a wonderful portrait of the very unusual Josephine Baker, to which Sloan Robinson is giving her all - and for that alone, the show is worthwhile. Robinson is a class act!
(photo credit: Judith E)