The iconic entertainer Josephine Baker will be the subject of a new Broadway musical titled Josephine and presented by veteran musical producer Kenneth Waissman.
Waissman told Playbill On-Line that the show, which has a score by Steve Dorff and John Bettis and a book by Ellen Weston, will have an out-of town tryout before landing in Times Square during the 2003-04 season.
Josephine is drawn by "Remembering Josephine" by Stephen Papich, one of the first biographies about Baker to appear following her death in 1975. The musical will not focus on her celebrated career in the 1920s, when she wowed Paris audiences with her vivacious and sensual "Banana Dance," or her bizarre later life when she adopted a dozen orphans of various nationalities and ended up deep in debt, but looks at the World War II years of 1939 to 1945. During that charged time, Baker was involved in a romantic relationship with Crown Prince Gustav VI of Sweden, an affair that led her to become involved in the French Resistance. "That experience," elaborated Waissman, "gave her the self-esteem to recognize the attentions of Joe Boullion, who had been courting her for years, and to marry him."
Dorff and Bettis are pop composers, who wrote "Crazy for You" for Madonna and much material for The Carpenters, including "Only Yesterday", "Top Of The World" and "Yesterday Once More." Waissman said he encountered their work one day at Colony Records, the musty old music shop on Broadway. He was searching for songwriters he wasn't familiar with, when a clerk recommended he listen to the recording of Lunch, an earlier musical by the team. "I don't know what the story to Lunch was, but I was impressed with what I heard," said Waissman.
The 1994 "concept" recording of Lunch features performances by such theatre names as Michael Rupert, Laurie Beechman, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Davis Gaines and Faith Prince. The show premiered in 1992 at western Michigan's Cherry County Playhouse, with a then unknown Mitchell in the cast. Waissman is a Broadway veteran with more than 30 years experience. He produced the original productions of Grease!, Over Here!, Agnes of God and Torch Song Trilogy. He was also general manager for the famous flop, Carrie. His last Broadway production was the short-lived 1997 musical Street Corner Symphony.
—By Robert Simonson