Josephine and I

Theater, Musicals
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Josephine and I: Theater review by Adam Feldman

A large picture frame dominates the stage in Cush Jumbo’s Josephine and I, both physically and dramaturgically. Half of Jumbo's studious show is a portrait of the remarkable African-American trailblazer Josephine Baker, who rose from a hardscrabble St. Louis childhood to become an exotically glamorous star in Jazz Age Paris (where she danced nearly naked) and, later, a champion of civil rights and racial diversity. Though her singing voice isn’t much like Baker’s, and her historical exposition can be clunky, Jumbo is a talented performer whose admiration for her fascinating subject is infectious.

The Baker story is continually interrupted, however, by a less compelling metatheatrical parallel narrative, in which Jumbo plays a frazzled English woman facing trials as an actor and woman of color. Presented as spontaneous, this “I” thread feels artificial­—it’s a composite version of personal experience—and the piece as a whole is tinged with solo-show self-consciousness. It’s impressive but earnest, and its final turn into uplift suggests a child sitting solemnly on someone else’s shoulders.—Adam Feldman

Joe's Pub at the Public Theater (see Off Broadway). By Cush Jumbo. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. With Jumbo. 1hr 40mins. No intermission.

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Event phone: 212-967-7555
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