The Baker's Wife
|The Baker's Wife|
|Basis||The film La Femme du Boulanger by Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono|
|Productions||1989 West End
1997 Nappanee, Indiana
2005 Milburn, New Jersey
The Baker's Wife is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and the book by Joseph Stein, based on the 1938 French film La Femme du Boulanger by Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono. The musical premiered in the West End in 1989 for a short run but, while establishing a dedicated cult following, has not been produced on Broadway.
The musical theater rights of the Marcel Pagnol's 1938 film were originally optioned in 1952 by producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin. Composer Frank Loesser and librettist Abe Burrows, who had worked with Feuer and Martin on Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying were attached as authors. The production to star Bert Lahr, however, never materialized. Nearly a decade later Zero Mostel was named to take the lead.
By 1976 the rights had devolved to producer David Merrick. The production by Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein toured the United States for six months in 1976, undergoing major retoolings along the way. It played the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles in May 1976 and also the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC. (in November 1976). Topol as the baker Amiable, was replaced by Paul Sorvino during the last two weeks of the Kennedy Center run, and his wife Geneviève was played by Carole Demas who was eventually replaced by Patti LuPone. The production never reached Broadway, the authors having pulled out of the production in the try-out process.
After hearing the song "Meadowlark" countless times in auditions, director Trevor Nunn persuaded the authors to mount a London production. The Baker's Wife, starring Alun Armstrong and Sharon Lee-Hill, opened in the West End at the Phoenix Theatre on November 27, 1989, and closed on January 6, 1990, after 56 performances. This production, too, was ill-fated: though reviews were strong and audience reaction positive, the production was steadily losing money. According to Carol De Giere, "While reviewers offered praise, audiences were small and the show closed after only 56 performances. Schwartz explains,'The major thing that was wrong was that it was just too long'...Nunn comments 'Every performance there had a standing ovation, which is not at all normal in the English provinces." Bowing to financial reality, the show closed prematurely, but received the Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Musical of the Year.
The creative team reunited for the 1997 production at The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana, that was directed by Scott Schwartz, and the production at the Goodspeed Opera House, Norma Terris Theatre, Chester, Connecticut in November 2002.
The Paper Mill Playhouse, Milburn, New Jersey, produced the show from April 13 to May 15, 2005. The director was Gordon Greenberg, with choreography by Christopher Gattelli and the cast that starred Alice Ripley as Genevieve, Max von Essen as Dominique, Lenny Wolpe as Amiable, Gay Marshall (Denise) and Richard Pruitt (Claude). The Paper Mill production included the reworking of the relationship between the characters of Geneviève and Dominique as well as new lyrics for "Proud Lady". The production received rave reviews across the board, including The New York Times, which exclaimed "after 30 years of fine-tuning, Messieurs Stein and Schwartz will have the lovely little musical they always wanted", The New York Daily News, by Howard Kissel, who urged "The whole thing could - and should - be moved to Broadway, where it could find a well-deserved home", Peter Filichia, from the Star Ledger, said: "Director Gordon Greenberg (who's staged the entire show superbly) gets the most of this moment, too. Everyone knows that man does not live by bread alone. He needs a good musical in his diet, too. 'The Baker's Wife' certainly is one to savor."
The award-winning Union Theatre, Southwark, produced The Baker's Wife in September/October 2011, starring Lisa Stokke and Michael Matus. It was staged and directed by Michael Strassen and received rave reviews, prompting reviewer Mark Shenton to write: "Michael Strassen reclaims The Baker's Wife forever as the affecting miniature masterpiece that has always been lurking inside it."
It's early autumn in this small provincial town, still surprisingly provincial in the mid-1930s; we see several tables occupied at the cafe. Denise, the wife of the proprietor, tends to her chores while singing "Chanson": first in French, then English. She sees the same faces every day, but sometimes, things can happen that change you, making life different and new.
Focus is shifted to the customers at the tables. Bits of conversation are heard: complaints from a gardener whose neighbor's tree is shading his spinach; an argument between the local priest and the school teacher who has been teaching that Joan of Arc "thought" she heard voices; the owner of a well quarrelling with the neighbor whose dog had breached that well seven years previously. The bickering villagers insist to one another that their lives would be much better "If It Wasn't for You". All are anticipating the arrival of the baker: the village has been without bread since the previous baker died, and tensions are running higher than normal.
The Marquis enters with his three "nieces" and welcomes the new baker, Amiable Castagnet. Accurately named, he is a jolly, middle-aged fellow. With him is his young and beautiful wife Genevieve, whom the Marquis mistakes for the baker's daughter. The error is quickly addressed, but does not go unremarked by the townspeople. With Pompom, their cat, the couple is shown to their new home—with comments from the townsfolk, about the baker robbing the cradle, following in their wake.
In their new bakery, Amiable is clearly pleased with his new shop. To Genevieve, he sings "Merci, Madame", as enchanted with her as he is with his new surroundings. He is excited about the prospects of a prosperous life with a family. The villagers, too, are pleased with the return of "Bread" to the small town.
The customers argue about their place in line in the small shop, eager to sample the wares of the new baker. Others gossip about the Marquis and his nieces; and Antoine, one of the villagers, asks Amiable how an old man like him was able to snare the beautiful Genevieve. "God was good to me," he replies, and Genevieve reminds the villagers that not only did her husband choose her, she chose him, too—and, she insists, she couldn't be happier. She smiles at the customers but, embarrassed by their prying, rushes inside in tears. She sings of the "Gifts of Love" she's received from men in her past: her passionate affair with a married man named Paul, and her gentler feelings for Amiable. Closing the door on her past, she resolves to be a good wife to the baker.
While picking up the Marquis' pastry order, his driver, Dominique, eyes Genevieve, mistaking her for the baker's daughter, just as the Marquis himself did earlier. Genevieve corrects the handsome chauffeur, but he cockily insists on addressing her as Mademoiselle. Genevieve insists, "Madame!", but he continues flirting with her, flustering her. Amiable returns after trying to find Pompom and reports that the cat has run off.
Some time later in the village square, Dominique again advances upon Genevieve. She rebuffs him, reminding him that she is happily married, but he resolves that he will be with his "Proud Lady".
The villagers gather again outside the café, engaged in their usual squabbles. The baker and his wife arrive and sit at a table near Antoine who continues to tease them about the difference in their ages. He implies that while the baker may be able to create the perfect croissant, his ability to create a child might have passed. Dominique comes to the couple's defense, hitting Antoine, but Genevieve is humiliated by the entire scene and exits in a huff. The men of the village slyly advise one another to "Look For the Woman" whenever conflict arises among them: "It's when the hen walks into the barnyard that the roosters start pecking at each other."
That evening, we see three couples — including the baker and his wife — getting ready for bed. Dominique and his guitar-toting friend Philippe plot their evening in the town square, and as the three couples end their reprise of "Chanson", Dominique and Philippe start their "Serenade". The baker believes their song is a tribute offered in thanks for his baking, but Genevieve understands correctly that Dominique is singing to her. Amiable, ever the good man, sends Genevieve to give Dominique some unsold baguettes. She castigates her insistent suitor, but Dominique is undeterred. Despite her protests, Genevieve is unable to resist him, and they decide to meet an hour later and run off together.
Amiable calls down to Genevieve, and she replies that she'll return to bed in a minute. As he drops off to sleep, she contemplates her situation, singing the legend of the "Meadowlark". In the story, the bird decides to stay with the old king who adored her—and perishes of sadness, having missed her opportunity to fly away with the sun-god who had wooed her. Resisting the meadowlark's sad fate, Genevieve embarks for an unknown future with her "beautiful young man".
The neighbors are awakened to a fire in the bakery's oven, where the baker finds charred loaves. Usually Genevieve is the early riser of the household, and he begins to search for her, believing that she has gone in search for Pompom. A crowd begins to gather and the gossip begins at once, "Buzz A-Buzz": they know Amiable's search will yield neither cat nor wife.
The Marquis arrives and takes the baker aside, telling him that Genevieve had run off with his chauffeur in the Marquis' Peugeot. Philippe arrives and confirms the story, but Amiable chooses to believe that Genevieve has merely gone to visit her mother. As the gossip continues, the Marquis threatens to report his stolen car to the police, and to have the two lovers arrested. The gossiping townsfolk gleefully agree that the whole outrageous scandal is the "best thing to happen in this town in all my life!"
The second act opens as the first, with Denise reprising her "Chanson". The villagers reprise "If It Wasn't for You", while keeping an eye on the baker: they are relieved to see him begin a new batch of dough. The teacher and the priest argue again, the priest accusing the villagers of contaminating Genevieve with their immoral conduct, the teacher championing free will. The Marquis dismisses both explanations, insisting that Genevieve's behavior was simple human nature—that we are all captive to the joys of the flesh.
Amiable crosses to the café to inform the customers that the bread will be ready momentarily. The typically sober baker orders a cognac, and another, and sings tipsily that Genevieve will be home on an "Any-Day-Now Day": she has just gone to visit her mother. In an attempt to sober him up, the villagers follow him into the bakery, only to find it in a shambles. Amiable collapses amongst the spilled flour, dough hanging from the ceiling, and burnt loaves of bread.
The villagers realize that the town is in danger of being once again without a baker, and they blame the despondent baker's runaway wife for the sorry state of affairs. In the closed bakery, they try to cheer up Amiable and get him baking again by telling him that he's the "Luckiest Man in the World": he's been spared the boredom and arguments of married life.
The Marquis enters, telling Amiable that all he needs to cheer up is some "Feminine Companionship," even offering to loan his "nieces". The villagers ask the Marquis if the girls are really his nieces, to which he responds, "What is a niece but the daughter of a brother, and as I consider all men my brothers...." The girls surround the baker, flirting and caressing him. The priest enters and, shocked at the scene, begins feuding with the Marquis. The villagers join in the fray, and the baker throws them all out.
At a town meeting in the church, Amiable admits that he knows that Genevieve has run off. He offers the Marquis his life savings to deter him from hunting down the couple. He leaves the church, and the villagers—chastened by the aging man's selflessness even in the face of profound anguish—vow to work together to find Genevieve and persuade her to return to her husband.
Alone in the bakery, Amiable decides "If I Have to Live Alone", that he will do so with dignity.
The villagers are again at the cafe, and Antoine enters claiming that he has found the young couple at a hotel in a nearby town. They agree to form a search party, and the Marquis, the priest, and the teacher go after the outcasts to persuade the baker's wife to return home. Left behind, the women of the town comment ruefully on the "Romance" that is missing from their own lives.
In a small hotel room, Genevieve and Dominique are together, but all is not well. She admits her passion for the young man, but wonders "Where Is the Warmth?" She gathers her things and leaves him asleep.
At a bus stop, the villagers encounter Genevieve on her way to Marseille. They beg her to return but, guilt-stricken and ashamed, she tells them that she can never go home again. They eventually convince her to return: "all sins are forgivable".
The villagers are asked to remain in their houses so as to not embarrass Genevieve when she arrives. Escorted by the priest and the Marquis, Genevieve walks through the empty street to the bakery and cautiously approaches her door.
She finds Amiable and attempts to tell him the truth, but he awkwardly refuses to listen, offering her dinner and insisting that she has returned from visiting her mother. Pompom arrives at the window, and Aimable angrily chastises the cat for running after "some tom that looked good in the moonlight." He unleashes all of his pent-up bitterness toward Genevieve on the small cat, but offers it a saucer of milk. He has faithfully refilled the milk each day, and when Amiable charges that the cat will run off yet again, a tearful Genevieve assures him that "she will not leave". Reconciled, the two begin to prepare the bread for the next day.
Denise begins the new day at the café, reprising her "Chanson", joined by the town in harmony.
This song list reflects the recording of the 1990 London production.
Although bootleg live recordings are known to exist, a full cast album of The Baker's Wife was never recorded at the time of its original tour in 1976. While the show was playing in Boston, it was seen by long-time theatre enthusiasts Bruce and Doris Yeko, who had only recently started up their own record label, Take Home Tunes, devoted to the preservation of musical scores that might not otherwise be recorded. Impressed by the score, the Yekos contacted Stephen Schwartz, who suggested to them that a full cast album might be recorded. At that time, however, the couple had little experience in record production, having only released an EP of songs from The Robber Bridegroom. However, after The Baker's Wife closed on the road, the Yekos and Schwartz negotiated to record an LP of excerpts from the score, with the composer himself selecting what he considered to be the best songs (rather than those, necessarily, that might advance the plot).
The recording sessions took place in early 1977 in an apartment studio in Greenwich Village that was too small to accommodate an ensemble. As a result, Schwartz suggested that, to save both space and money, only the songs performed by the three protagonists would be recorded. Thus the resulting LP contained six solo numbers and five duets, performed by original cast members Paul Sorvino and Patti LuPone, along with Terri Ralston (who sang "Chanson").
At the same time, the Yekos produced and released an EP with additional songs performed by original cast member Sorvino along with Darlene Conley, Denise Lor, and Portia Nelson (who were not in the touring production) and composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz and his wife, Carol.
This "original cast" LP of The Baker's Wife became very popular, and received a Grammy nomination. It has since been re-released on CD twice: once in 1989 (the first CD to be released by Bruce Yeko's Original Cast label) and again in 1992.
The 1990 London production, directed by Trevor Nunn, was recorded and released on the JAY label as a lavish two-CD set. This comprised 20 songs, of which 10 had been previously heard on the 1976 LP and one other from the studio cast EP. The remaining songs, not previously recorded, either came from the original tour, the 1985 off-Broadway revival, or had been specially written for the new London production.
Since the late 1980s, songs from the show have also been recorded by solo artists. "Meadowlark" is by far the most frequently covered song, having been recorded by Sarah Brightman, Betty Buckley, Susan Egan, Liz Callaway, Sandy Campbell, Meredith Braun, Dianne Pilkington, Rosalind Kind, Susannah Mars and others.
- De Giere, Carol. Defying Gravity: the Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, From Godspell to Wicked. Music Dispatch, 2008, ISBN 1-55783-745-7
- Sullivan, Dan."'The Baker's Wife' at the Pavilion" (abstract), pp. G1-2The Los Angeles Times (pqarchiver.com), May 13, 1976.
- "Audiences Around the World Alike Says Topol", Daytona Beach Morning Journal, June 1976.
- "'The Baker's Wife' Closes Out of Town (abstract)", p. 53, The New York Times (select.nytimes.com), November 11, 1976.
- De Giere, p. 136.
- De Giere, p. 132.
- Finch, Hilary "Well-bred and good pedigree"The Times (kniestedt.com), 16 November 1989.
- "'The Baker's Wife', Phoenix Theatre, 1989" thisistheatre.com, retrieved March 7, 2010,
- De Giere, pp. 481-482.
- The Joseph Stein Stage, Dedication remarks by Richard Pletcher, producer, November 1, 1997, amishacres.com, November 1, 1997.
- Johnson, Malcolm.Upbeat `Baker's Wife' abstractHartford Courant (abstract from pqarchiver.com), November 27, 2002.
- " 'The Baker's Wife' at PaperMill" papermill.org, retrieved March 6, 2010.
- Naomi Siegel, "Theater Review; Heartbreak and Baguettes in Provence", The New York Times, April 24, 2005.
- Kissel, Howard. "'Baker's' Is A Refined Flower", New York Daily News, April 29, 2005.
- Gans, Andrew."'Gifts of Love': 'The Baker's Wife' Plays the York Oct. 26-28", playbill.com, October 26, 2007.
- The Baker's Wife reviews.
- "Stage 100 Awards 2013: our judges’ citations" at The Stage People.
- Hetrick, Adam. "Revised Stephen Schwartz Rarity 'The Baker's Wife' Begins First NYC Professional Run Tonight" playbill.com, March 7, 2015
- Carol de Giere, Defying Gravity, pp. 138-39.
- Marcel Pagnol official website
- MTI - Music Theatre International - the company that licenses the show
- Plot summary & character descriptions from StageAgent.com
- The Baker's Wife on musicalschwartz: recordings, history, lyrics, production photos.
- Interview 1
- Interview with Alice Ripley - Star of The Baker's Wife.