The Baker’s Wife – Review

The Bakers Wife. Image Claire Bilyard
The Baker’s Wife. Image Claire Bilyard

I always thought that the French were a few slices short of a full loaf. Only they could go into euphoric raptures about freshly baked baguettes, brioche and the mouth-watering moreish croissant.

But their love affair with the petit pain provides a banquet of potential to writers.

In 1976 Stephen Schwartz penned The Baker’s Wife, a charming slice of rustic whimsy about love and loaves – and how to keep both in your life.

And now this little lost gem has been rediscovered by burgeoning theatre company MKEC Productions which is staging the musical at London’s Drayton Arms Theatre.

More than six million people have seen Schwartz’s biggest show, Wicked, but it’s a mystery why The Baker’s Wife never found its audience. It’s a miniature masterpiece that deserves greater recognition.

And it’s a musical which lends itself perfectly to a chamber piece. You don’t need full orchestras, vast West End stages and a cast of hundreds, to put on a funny, feelgood, beautifully acted and wonderfully sung production.

An exuberant young cast delivers a pitch perfect performance in a wonderfully funny story set in the less than idyllic village of Concorde.

The village is without a baker. Mon dieu! What a to-do! Neighbours are bickering and tensions are high. Fresh crusty loaves are the only solution.

But Concorde is thrown into fresh turmoil when new baker Aimable Castagnet arrives with a lovely new wife who is less than half his age.

The lothario Marquis (Blair Robertson having fun with a role that is probably aimed at an older man), already squiring three “nieces”, takes a momentary fancy, as does every red-blooded man in the area.

Ridiculously handsome chauffeur/ cum handyman, Dominique, falls hopelessly in love. The baker’s wife tries to concentrate on selling her tarts but eventually runs off with her romeo, throwing the future happiness of an entire village in doubt.

The Baker’s Wife was based on a 1938 French comedy film but was lovingly re-written for the American stage by Schwartz, who provided the music and lyrics, with the book by Joseph Stern.

Thankfully they didn’t mess too much with the original. We’re still in 1930s Provence where the dear old boulangerie is very much the heart of the village with the local cafe, run warring couple, Claude (Angus McIntyre) and Denise (Elizabeth Chadwick), a close second.

The numbers are sparkling, poignant and funny, packed with witty and perceptive lyrics, even if the music is rather generic.

They range from the standout romantic ballards like Meadowlark, Serenade and the baker’s dignified lament, If I Have To Live Alone, to the wildly eccentric Bread – sung by the cast of 12 in their nightwear.

There’s even a nod to a full blown choreographed number with The World’s Luckiest Man though the small performance space doesn’t really cater for a dance routine.

Oliver Jacobson’s butcher, Barnaby, alternates from comedy slob who is always stuffing his face, to a mean-mouthed husband constantly berating his put-upon wife Hortense (Amy Cooke-Hodgson, wringing out the pathos from a supporting part).

Matthew Whitby gives a highly animated turn as warring teacher Monsieur Martine who spends most of the performance at odds with his neighbour, the parish priest le Cure (Aron Trausti).

The ménage à trois, cuckolded baker, his wife and her handyman bit on the side (Gary Bland, the sweet-voiced Holli Paige Farr and Adam Redford) are the only three straight parts in an otherwise hilarious comedy. As such they’re not really fleshed out.

How does Genevieve chose? Remain with the boring old baker or follow her lust and chose Redford’s Dominque who, on looks alone, will go far, but is also an accomplished singer and potential leading man material.

Director Marc Kelly, who launched MKEC last year with Chadwick and an acclaimed production of Elegies, Angels, Punks & Raging Queens, has come up with an assured follow-up show presented by a confident and talented ensemble.

The Baker’s Wife runs at the Drayton Arms, SW5, until July 4.

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