Orlando actress brings 1st international Black superstar, WWII spy to life on stage

Musical inspired by Josephine Baker runs from March 9-19 at The Ren

"Josephine" runs from March 9-19 at The Renaissance Theatre Company in Orlando. (VonHoffman)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The woman who inspired music legends like Beyoncé and Billie Holiday, fought Nazis as a spy during World War II, adopted 12 children and became the first Black actress to star in a movie is coming to Orlando.

Tymisha Harris is bringing Josephine Baker to life on the Renaissance Theatre Company stage this March. Billed as a burlesque, cabaret, dream play and biographical musical, “Josephine” was created in 2015 as a tribute to the woman who paved the way for the Beyoncés, Ellas, Tinas and Billies of the industry.

Harris, who originated the role, wrote the now 90-minute show alongside Michael Marinaccio and Tod Kimbro, a move which launched the local actress from the ensemble to the forefront.

Tymisha Harris will play Josephine Baker on the Renaissance Theatre Company stage. (Roberto Gonzalez)

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“It was perfect, especially in our political climate at that time, (which) really could use some accentuation of a powerful woman of color,” said Harris, of choosing Baker as the subject of her production in 2015. “Once we started doing research, it just became this whirlwind of substance, of life, you know, she lived 10 lifetimes. And so it was really perfect for us to bring her to the stage and bring it to the forefront for people.”

Even though the production has been performed for years — off-Broadway, internationally and locally — the version coming to the Ren is even more special, featuring new information dug up by government officials on Baker’s work as a spy with the French Resistance.


“There’s so much more information that came out about her from the French government that it’s just, like, ‘We have more.’ I feel like I’m always learning about her,” Harris said.

Her Josephine Baker education started early at 17 years old when she was introduced to the first international Black superstar through HBO’s “The Josephine Baker Story” starring Lynn Whitfield at home and a tiny paragraph in the Encyclopedia Britannica at school.

What she saw of the spy-activist-superstar extraordinaire sparked her own lifelong artistic journey.

“(It) influenced me enough to start me on a career that was all my own. I knew that Josephine said yes to a number of things to keep her career going and a number of people to keep her interests going and a number of situations to keep her life going forward. I knew that she was a Black woman. I knew that she did these things on her own and I thought I could do that too,” Harris said.

Tymisha Harris, who had a hand in creating the show in 2015, is bringing Josephine Baker to life on the Renaissance Theatre Company stage. (Lindsay Taylor)

As the ultimate renaissance woman and adventure seeker in her pursuits, Baker was the muse for many. Not only did Baker bring African themes and dance styles to white audiences in Paris and star in several major motion pictures throughout the ‘30s, but she also passed along Nazi secrets as a spy for the French Resistance, confronted segregation back home in the U.S. and adopted 12 children she referred to as her “rainbow tribe.”

“She is someone that trailblazed her way in acting, singing, dancing... She was an uniter. She was a lover. Maybe a fighter,” Harris said. “She was born at a time that wasn’t necessarily all that great for Black people in America. And she was determined to bridge the gaps, have people talk about it.”

She said it’s an honor to express herself through such an icon and bring her to life on the Ren stage for people who may not be familiar with Baker’s story.

Tymisha Harris created the "Josephine" show alongside Michael Marinaccio and Tod Kimbro in 2015. (Eleonora Briscoe)

“I could see (this show) at the Ren because of the way they are able to manipulate the space and the way that they support their local artists,” Harris said.

The theatre’s co-founder Donald Rupe added the company is “so proud to feature this work on our stage.”

“At Renaissance Theatre Company, we champion original work created by local artists,” Rupe said in a statement. “Josephine is written, directed and performed by some of the most talented artists in Orlando, and it tells a beautiful story about one of history’s most iconic performers.”

For more information, visit the show’s website. To buy tickets to the Ren performance, click here.

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About the Author:

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.