Last month, the new musical Josephine, which cast Grammy nominee Deborah Cox (Aida, Jekyll & Hyde) as the legendary African-American performer Josephine Baker, opened at Florida's Asolo Rep, in collaboration with Tony Award-winning producer Kenneth Waissman.
Producer Waissman spoke with Playbill.com about future plans for the musical as well as the recent Florida engagement, which concluded its run May 29.
“The main thing we learned [from the Asolo Rep run] was that the show works and has strong audience appeal,” Waissman says. “From opening night on, every performance was sold out, and there were even long waiting lists for standing room. The word of mouth wherever we went in and around Sarasota was intensely enthusiastic.
“Usually, the day after the official opening of a regional theatre world premiere, the creative staff leaves. However, I insisted that my deal with the Asolo allow me to have the creative team stay on though the first full week after the opening. As a result, we were able to evaluate the reviews and the preview audience reactions and make a lot of changes that resulted in a much stronger show. In one week of working, we put in a new opening number, rewrote and restaged several scenes, and in addition, our director/choreographer, Joey McKneely, re-choreographed one of the big dance numbers. We will continue to make changes to the musical before rehearsals begin in New York, during those rehearsals and during the preview weeks prior to the Broadway opening.”
The producer, who won a Tony for producing the original Broadway production of Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy, said Florida will be the last stop for the musical prior to Broadway. “We don't have any plans to do another regional production,” Waissman explains. “To do so, would take another year-and-a-half to two years to bring to fruition. It would increase our budget by an additional million dollars or so. The additional work we want to do can be done prior to the Broadway production, during rehearsals for the Broadway production and during the preview weeks in front of an audience prior to the Broadway opening. To do another regional engagement would be indulgent.”
Waissman says he expects Josephine to arrive on Broadway within a year or a year-and-a-half’s time. In fact, according to an interview in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, the producer says he has already met with representatives of the Shubert and Nederlander organizations to find a suitable theatre.
Directed and choreographed by two-time Tony Award nominee McKneely, Josephine features a book by Ellen Weston and Mark Hampton; music by five-time Emmy Award nominee and three-time Grammy Award nominee Stephen Dorff; and lyrics by Academy Award, Grammy and Golden Globe nominee and two-time Emmy Award winner John Bettis.
Inspired by Stephen Papich's book Remembering Josephine, the musical, according to press notes, “revolves around Baker’s stint as the star of the Folies Bergère in Paris between 1939-45, her scandalous affair with Swedish Crown Prince Gustav VI, and her heroic service in the French Resistance during World War II.”
The Florida cast also included Kevin Earley as Jo Bouillon, Josephine Baker's band conductor and love interest; and Mark Campbell as Baker's forbidden lover, Prince Gustav.
The new musical has orchestrations, arrangements and musical supervision by Steve Orich; scenic design by Paul Tate dePoo III; costume design by Eduardo Sicangco; lighting design by Brian Nason; sound design by Justin Stasiw; and projection design by Alex Basco Koch.