Monday, January 16, 2012

Bananas! A Day In The Life of Josephine Baker – written and performed by Sloan Robinson

By Joe Straw

There is a lot to be said about Josephine Baker, her life, her style, her lovers, but sadly there is only a limited amount of information one can give in a show that is under two hours long.  But Sloan Robinson, in her marvelous sequin gowns, takes a stab at celebrating her life, singing wonderful songs, giving us the pertinent information, and letting us sally forth to learn more about this fabulous star.

I'll say it just this once, this is a wonderful performance by Sloan Robinson, a wonderful tribute, and has moments that will tug on your “tomatoes”. (See the show for this reference.)  

J.E.T. Productions West in association with Do It Yourself Productions presents, Bananas! A Day in the Life of Josephine Baker written by Sloan Robinson and directed by Joyce Maddox through February 26, 2012 in North Hollywood.

Maybe because this was opening night but somehow the start of the show didn’t seem quite right.  The flow, the connection, the disconnect, got me a little worried.  This is an award winning show that has been playing for years. I just didn’t get it.

But then something wonderful happens during the course of the performance and the show soared into the stratosphere and worked beautifully!  Wherever I go from here, I'll always carry this show with me. 

So what happened in the beginning?

The joy of theatre is finding the truth, the connection.  These are the moments that strike a cord that puts us into the lap of the character.  And this is especially true in a one-person show. I am not familiar with Sloan Robinson’s work as well as a lot of actors I see in small theatre.  That’s fine.  But the truth in the opening must be captured the moment an actor walks on stage. Opening with a song and retiring to her hotel suite may have cured that problem.

So what happened in the beginning?

The play opens in a hotel suite in Paris, France. Josephine is 55 years old and reminiscing about days gone by as she speaks to a photograph of her deceased mother.  And even though Josephine Baker is 55, she lets you know that she has much more to accomplish.  

And in those few moments we learn a lot about her life, the highlights, her husbands, her adopted children (12 of them), and her mother.

We also learn that she is having financial troubles and she needs to work because her family is depending on her. And so she tells us about the latter part of her life from the hotel suite in Paris, The Strand in New York City, and Casablanca in Morocco.

But what about the beginning?    

I could hear it in the audience, the waiting for the connect, the nasty unwrapping of a candy mint.  The first song was not quite right for this audience.  

It was under the spotlight down stage left behind the microphone where Josephine playfully demanded the audience to participate.  It was a moment that figuratively got us out of our seat and into the lap of Josephine Baker.  And from then on, it was smooth sailing.

Sloan Robinson captures the essence of Josephine Baker, from the bottom of her feet to the feathers on her head. She is physically gifted and emotionally connected to the woman known as Josephine Baker. Also, she is as funny as any comedian could be.  The second act depicts Josephine's early years and Robinson is wonderful imitating Bessie Smith and other characters. 

One can’t help but get emotional about a song Josephine sang about her children.  It was a beautiful and a loving tribute to her “rainbow tribe”.  This alone is worth the price of admission. 

Judith E. was the Executive Producer and also did a marvelous job.

Joyce Maddox, the Director, had Josephine performing some marvelous moments on stage particularly the letter that was never sent. There was also a splendid film sequence that highlights the life of Joseph Baker moments before Josephine comes out to do the last number.

Aeros Pierce was the Music Director, so very unobtrusive, and yet so very important to this show.

It’s not hard to see from the YouTube clips that Josephine Baker was instrumental in leading the way for a lot of performers.

One hopes that you will take the time to see Sloan Robinson at J.E.T. Theatre in this marvelous show.

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