“Looking for Josephine”: A thousand times oui!

Yesterday I went “Looking for Josephine,” and I wound up completely – and most pleasantly – surprised by what I found: a brilliantly entertaining musical revue.

Jersey girl Nicolle Rochelle captivates as jazz singer/dancer/actress Josephine Baker in "Looking for Josephine."/Credit New York Times

Jersey girl Nicolle Rochelle captivates as jazz singer/dancer/actress Josephine Baker in "Looking for Josephine."/Credit New York Times

The bonus? It features a star-making turn by Jersey girl Nicolle Rochelle.

The show isn’t so much about the life of singer/dancer/actress Josephine Baker (who, by the way, must be an inspiration for Angelina Jolie: according to a New York Times piece, Baker adopted 12 children of different ethnicities and named them her “Rainbow Tribe”), though. It starts out in 2005 New Orleans, just after Hurricane Katrina has hit. A French producer (a hysterical Michel Dussarrat) arrives in town looking for a young woman to play Josephine in a new show in Paris. He meets Cindy (Nicolle Rochelle), she wows him, wins the role and moves to France. Shortly after the intermission, we’re transported to Paris’ La Revue Nègre of 1925 Paris – and yes, the infamous banana skirt makes an appearance. “J’ai Deux Amours,” “Then I’ll Be Happy,” “Who,” “C’est Lui” and “Ma Tonkinoise” are all performed, and I dare you to not clap or tap your foot during any of them.

At the same time, the show also explores the history and evolution of black music, from Africa to the Caribbean to the United States. It is obvious that writer/director Jérôme Savary, who also appears in the production (and who briefly sung to me and stroked my cheek!), has a deep passion for the subject matter and that makes all the difference.

“Looking for Josephine” is full of fantastic music, dance and a charming cast (which includes an adorable Poodle who almost steals the show). But it is Montclair’s very own Nicolle Rochelle who shines – and considering the company in which she’s keeping here, that’s saying a lot.

If you’re lucky enough to have scored tickets to the show – which plays again next week at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University (yes, you read right: the tickets are only $15 each!)  – you’re indeed in for a great time.

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