The World Premiere of an Original Broadway-bound Musical
Asolo Rep is producing JOSEPHINE in collaboration with two-time Tony Award®-winner Kenneth Waissman, who produced the original Broadway production of Grease and is one of only two producers in the history of Broadway to have a musical run over 3,000 performances and a play run over 1,000. Waissman produced a Broadway workshop for JOSEPHINE in May and June 2011, which also featured Cox as the iconic leading lady. JOSEPHINE will be directed and choreographed by two-time Tony Award-nominee Joey McKneely, who recently did the musical staging for the celebrated Broadway revival of West Side Story. JOSEPHINE features a book by Ellen Weston and Mark Hampton, and an original score composed by five-time Emmy Award®-nominee and three-time Grammy Award-nominee Stephen Dorff with lyrics by Academy Award®, Grammy, and Golden Globe®-nominee and two-time Emmy Award-winner John Bettis.
Led by Asolo Rep’s Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards, Kenneth Waissman, Deborah Cox, Joey McKneely, and Stephen Dorff provided insight and behind-the-scenes information with members of the press and Asolo Rep donors and sponsors at a special presentation in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts Cook Theatre on Friday, March 6, 2015. It was also revealed that Ms. Cox will perform with Mr. Dorff at Asolo Rep’s Annual Gala on Saturday, March 7 at The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota.
Inspired by Stephen Papich’s book “Remembering Josephine,” the musical revolves around Baker’s stint as the star of the Folies Bergere 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. She was hailed as the “Black Pearl.” Picasso dubbed her the “Nefertiti of Now.” Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” The entrancing Josephine Baker was beautiful, ambitious, and the toast of Europe at the height of her fame in the 1920s-30s. Born into poverty in St. Louis, she rose to become an icon of the Jazz Age, captivating Paris audiences as a dancer, singer, actress and the twentieth-century’s first international black female sex symbol.
“We are excited to present the world premiere of this extraordinary original musical, brimming with unparalleled Broadway talent,” said Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards. “JOSEPHINE vividly brings to life the story of a beloved American icon — one of the most magnetic and fascinating women in history. This celebration of Josephine Baker is a remarkably evocative work of art and a brilliant addition to our five-year American Character Project.”
“For a number of years, I had been intrigued with the idea of recreating the glamorous and exotic world of Josephine Baker in a stage musical,” said Kenneth Waissman. “She was a larger than life African-American expatriate who transcended her color, her gender and her times. Her exotic looks, fabulous gowns and feathered headdresses, her obsession with her royal lover and her life-risking exploits in the French underground during WWII provide the sex, romance and intrigue of this original new musical. I’m thrilled to be working with Asolo Repertory Theatre on the world premiere of this Broadway-bound dream.”
(In Alphabetical Order)
JOEY McKNEELY (Director/Choreographer) is a two-time Tony Award® nominee. He did the musical staging, recreating the Jerome Robbins choreography, for the recent hit Broadway revival of West Side Story, currently on National Tour. At the request of Andrew Lloyd Weber, McKneely directed and choreographed Evita for the ‘opening of The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Theatre in Chiswick, outside of London. The London Times, in reviewing the production, stated, “Director Joey McKneely gets every decision right!” He choreographed the Broadway hits Smokey Joe’s Café and The Boy From Oz (in which Hugh Jackman starred as the famous Australian singer, Peter Allen.) He also choreographed the Cy Coleman musical, The Life, receiving a Tony Award nomination and an Outer Critics Award nomination. McKneely made his directorial debut with West Side Story at La Scala Opera House in Milan. The production played in more than 15 countries around the world, including an engagement in London at the Sadler-Wells Theatre. In Tokyo, he directed and choreographed the musical, The Beautiful Game. In addition, McKneely directed and choreographed national tours of Annie Get Your Gun; Crazy For You; Pippin; Thoroughly Modern Millie and Smokey Joe’s Café. Other musical staging credits include: the Broadway production of The Wild Party; Whistle Down the Wind; A Wonderful Life; The Time of Your Life; Jolson, the Musical and Making Tracks. Beginning as a performer, he appeared in the original Broadway casts of Starlight Express; Roza; Carrie; the revival of She Loves Me and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.
JOHN BETTIS (Lyrics) is a member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, an Emmy Award winner and an Academy Award and Grammy Award nominee. Mr. Bettis is co-founder of The Carpenters. With composer Frank Wildhorn, he did the lyrics for the musical Svengali. Randy Travis, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Barry Manilow, Dionne Warwick, Julio Iglesias, Harry Connick, Jr., Carole Burnett and Diana Ross have all recorded his songs.
ELLEN WESTON (Co-Bookwriter) wrote the book & lyrics for A House in the Woods at the Goodspeed Opera House and the stage musical A Matter of Wife and Death. Screenplay and producing credits include: And the Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story; Holiday in Your Hear (starred Leann Rimes and Bernadette Peters); Outrage (starred Rob Lowe); Sleeping With the Devil (starred Shannen Doherty and Tim Matheson); Lies Before Kisses (starred Ben Gazzara and Jaclyn Smith); Fear Stalk (starred Jill Clayburgh); and the miniseries Medusa’s Child.
MARK HAMPTON (Co-Bookwriter) wrote the Off Broadway hit Full Gallop with Mary Louise Wilson (who also starred as the infamous Vogue Magazine editor Diana Vreeland.) His latest play, The Secret Letters of Jackie & Marilyn, debuted at the Pittsburgh Public Theater. The Boswell Sisters, a musical he co-authored on the life of the 1930’s singing trio, premiered at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre. With Judy Collins, Mr. Hampton co-wrote a one-woman show entitled Both Sides Now.