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BWW Review: THE LAST NIGHT OF JOSEPHINE BAKER from Vincent Victoria Presents

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Running now at Midtown Arts Center through December 19th

BWW Review: THE LAST NIGHT OF JOSEPHINE BAKER from Vincent Victoria Presents THE LAST NIGHT OF Josephine Baker is a fever dream of a play where the audience gets to see the jazz era sex symbol as she takes her final bows after a successful comeback show in Paris of 1975. It is a bittersweet homage to a woman who broke every idea of what a black artist should do for art and entertainment, and a timely reminder of a pioneer who took on the world before Beyonce, Whitney Houston, or Diana Ross ever dreamed of a stage. Vincent Victoria showcases his strongest talents in bringing to life this icon for the stage for us to look at with amazement and wonder. The play is a testimony to who Baker was, and how very much we all owe her.


The narrative thrust is a simple set up of Josephine Baker after a show during her 1975 run at the Bobino which celebrated her 50 years in entertainment. She awaits reviews impatiently, and is visited by friends and mysterious guests as she flashes back on her entire lifetime. We witness a complicated woman pondering decades of incredible achievements and adventures. She knew no boundaries in any sense of that word.

The evening largely rests on Jasmin Roland who plays Josephine as she is at the time of the piece. The actress has amazing charisma, and a calculated and cool delivery of her lines that give Baker a sense of class and purpose. She is impossibly beautiful and effortlessly elegant, and it's not hard to buy her as the legendary lady. She does well mining the emotional complexities of a lifetime of choices that are swirling around her at once. Maya Flowers is a poignant counterpoint as the young Jospehine inside flashbacks, and in her we see a different energy of youth and brass. She's a brave actress willing to put her all into recreating the silly faces and strapping on the infamous banana skirt for revealing numbers without pause. Maya commits to the part just as strongly as Jasmin, and together they make a complete portrait of Josephine Baker.

Ansonia Jones plays Ginette, Baker's personal assistant and guest during the first part of the play. She has a gentle elegance that compliments the tone of the show, and she sets a perfect pace for engaging with the diva. Erica Bolden steals the top of the second act as one of many famous guests, Bricktop the legendary cafe society performer. She injects a welcome witty comedic delivery that picks up the pace in the back stretch. Terrie Donald comes in and out of the proceedings playing Carrie McDonald, the mother to Josephine. She sings several gorgeous a capella soulful songs vital to the remorseful and reflective setting of this last night.

Denzel Goodman pops in as Baker's second husband, the one she kept her surname from. He grounds his scenes with Josephine with a nice earthiness and sense of masculinity that the play needs to define a sense of romance. Jeffery Womack adds mystery to his elusive waiter who may or may not be something more than he appears. Carlos Sanchez acquits himself well in the small part of Pepito, Baker's romantic partner and manager for a time period.

The entire ensemble is strong, and Vincent Victoria directs with his signature cinematic eye. The play is a forceful meditation on an empowered woman decades before her time. The only slips I could notice were a few pacing issues within the scenes, but I imagine as the show runs they should tighten up. Some conversations seemed to meander, but the actors kept everything natural enough to keep the play alive no matter what happened. This is one of the best companies in Houston theater that know each other well enough to make things click and hum despite hiccups. One other note is to familiarize yourself with Josephine's history, even if it is just a quick read through her Wikipedia entry. Vincent Victoria doesn't over explain any situation, and sometimes it helps to know the history to keep up with the flashbacks and referenced people and events.

THE LAST NIGHT OF Josephine Baker is a solid tribute to a woman who was a force of nature at a time when there were few. Being a black female in the 1920s and 1930s, and coming this far with just your talent was remarkable. Josephine Baker is a historical figure that is not discussed nearly enough, but one of the joys of the Vincent Victoria company is they make sure attention will be paid. And they do it with a keen eye for detail, and an honor for the spirit of the lady who lived it. A strong cast, a well directed production, and a script that knows its history means there is much to love here.

THE LAST NIGHT OF Josephine Baker runs at the Midtown Arts Center through December 19th. More information about tickets and times can be found at https://www.vincentvictoriapresents.com/ . COVID protocols ask that patrons wear masks during the performance.


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