Tumpie's Dance | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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In this new musical, "Tumpie" is the nickname of the young Josephine Baker, daughter of a Saint Louis laundress who became the toast of 1920s Paris by importing "le jazz hot." Performed for the first time as the opening attraction of the "Stages 2002" festival, this work in progress focuses on Baker's relationship with her domineering mother. Broadway star Lillias White (Dreamgirls, The Life) plays mama and doubles as Big Bertha, the vaudeville producer who helps Baker get to Europe; Roosevelt University alum Angela Grovey makes her Chicago debut as Baker. Presented in concert form under the supervision of opera director Tazewell Thompson, Tumpie's Dance is an admittedly fictionalized account of the legendary Baker's early life, according to composer Wally Harper, whose score draws on jazz, blues, and ragtime idioms to reflect the period. Harper, who's the musical director for cabaret great Barbara Cook, is much admired by musical-theater cognoscenti for scoring the dances in such shows as Company, Mack and Mabel, My One and Only, and Grand Hotel; his collaborator, librettist Sherman Yellen, authored the script for the 1970 Broadway musical The Rothschilds. Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, 773-327-5252. Friday, August 9, 7:45 PM. $50 ($35 with a festival pass); price includes preshow reception. Also Saturday, August 10, 1:30 PM. $15.

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