*A new musical about Josephine Baker, starring singer Deborah Cox in the title role, just opened in Florida on May 6 with its sights on Broadway.
For more than a decade, “Josephine” has been a labor of love for its producer Kenneth Waissman, who in the 1970s shepherded “Grease” to Broadway, and went on to produce such plays as “Agnes of God” and “Torch Song Trilogy.”
“I’ve always waited until I find something that really turns me on and makes me passionate about it,” Waissman told Variety regarding the gap between projects. What grabbed him about the story of Josephine Baker — whom he met, back during her final Broadway appearance in 1973 — was her WWII-era stint in Paris, encompassing her work with the French Resistance and her affair with the Crown Prince of Sweden. Set in Paris between 1939 and 1945, the musical covers these events in Baker’s life. Joey McKneely directs and choreographs the production.
“Josephine” launched its pre-Broadway run in Sarasota, Fla. at the Asolo Repertory Theater. The venue presented a sneak peek event, with Cox performing “Est-Cé Que, C’est Vous?” and Kevin Earley performing “Who Cares.” See below:
Local arts coverage is a little thin on the ground in Sarasota, so reviews aren’t plentiful. But the two most prominent notices that have hit see promise in the project, while agreeing that more work needs to be done to make Josephine more relatable. “It’s criticism we took to heart,” Waissman said.
Next stop: Broadway, ideally sometime during this coming season. Waissman estimated that before the Asolo run had even begun he’d raised some 40% of the capitalization costs, initially pegged at $13.5 million. (He now thinks he can do it for less.)
“Josephine” wraps up its run at Asolo Rep May 29, with the exact details and timeline for its future life still to be set.