THE BAKER'S WIFE
Book by Joseph Stein; Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Based on the novel Jean-le-bleu and the play La Femme du Boulanger by Jean Giono and the film by Marcel Pagnol.The simple plot involves a baker who, after finding that a handsome chauffeur is driving his wife crazy, refuses to supply the town with any more bread until she comes to her senses and returns to him.
- The show has never been the success that was expected of it given the pedigree of both Joseph Stein and Stephen Schwartz.
- Despite several reworkings, the addition of new songs and Trevor Nunn's direction in 1989, The Baker's Wife folded after a disappointing 56 performances.
- Notwithstanding its professional failure The Baker's Wife has proved popular with amateur and regional theatre companies. However. the show is currently on the restricted list owing to problems with the available score.
A few tables are occupied outside a small cafe in a French village. It's early autumn in the mid-1930s.
Denise, the proprietor's wife, while tending to her chores serving customers, sings her "Chanson" about the quiet life, living from day to day when nothing really changes, and yet... sometimes, unexpectedly, something can happen to make life quite different, quite new.
Several people stop at the cafe. Fragments of conversations are heard from table to table: an argument here between the school teacher and the local priest, a complaint there from a gardener to a neighbour who's tree is shading his spinach patch, and among all is the anticipation of the arrival of the new baker to replace the one who just died. This fairly argumentative group lists its complaints in a song, expressing a sense of general irritation amid the petty complaints among the villagers.
The Marquis, accompanied by his three "nieces," welcomes the baker, Aimable Castagnet. This amiable, accurately named fellow is a jolly middle-aged man. With the baker is the young and lovely Genevieve whom the Marquis mistakes for the baker's daughter. The error is quickly addressed. After the couple leaves the cafe, with their cat Pompom, to move into their new home, the cafe customers exchange a few remarks about the baker robbing the cradle.
The next scene is set in the bakery. Aimable is so pleased with the new surroundings and expresses his delight in his duet with Genevieve, "Merci, Madame." He is obviously enchanted with his young wife and delighted with their future in their little shop.
The villagers we met at the cafe are now customers at the bakery and sing the praises of "Bread." In their eagerness to sample the delicious smelling bakery products, customers argue about their places in the queue. Others gossip about the Marquis and his "nieces," and Antoine, one of the villagers, brazenly asks the baker how an old fellow like him won such a beautiful young bride. Aimable replies "God was good to me." Genevieve chimes in that not only did her husband choose her, she chose him and is happy with her choice. But while she smiles at the customers, she rushes inside the bakery in tears.
In her soliloquy, "Gifts Of Love," Genevieve reveals fragments of her past, her sensuous love affair with Paul, a married man, and contemplates the gentle love she shares now with her baker husband. She's determined to make the best of it, to be a good wife, and to close the door on her past.
The Marquis' driver, Dominique, comes to the shop to pick up the Marquis' pastry order. He eyes Genevieve. He too mistakes her for the baker's daughter rather than his wife. She corrects him. He addresses her as mademoiselle. "Madame!" she insists. He continues flirting, radiating charm. She is flustered. Aimable returns after trying to find Pompom and sadly reports that the cat has run off.
A few weeks later in the village square Genevieve encounters Dominique again. She tries to ignore his advances reminding him she's a happily married woman. He sings "Proud Lady" and predicts they are destined for one another and that someday she will be his.
Outside the cafe, the villagers gather again, still arguing, still gossiping, still teasing one another. The baker and his wife arrive and sit at a table as Antoine teases them about the difference in their ages, inferring that Aimable may be able to produce a splendid croissant, but can he produce offspring? Dominique barges in and comes to the couple's defence hitting Antoine for the insulting remark. Genevieve is irritated by Dominique's interference and leaves. Only the men of the town are left at the cafe and they sing "Look For The Woman" placing all the blame on the fairer sex for a man's quarreling and brawling nature.
Later that evening we see several couples (the baker and his wife; the cafe owner and his wife) as they prepare for bed. In the town square is Dominique with his pal Philippe. Together, but separately, the three pairs reprise "Chanson" and segue into "Serenade." Dominique sings the praises of the baker for bringing his "treasure" to their town. Aimable is flattered by the praise, not understanding that the "treasure" Dominique is acclaiming is the baker's wife, not the baker's bread!
In an effort to get rid of him, Genevieve goes into the shop and offers Dominique some pastries. He wants more than sweets. He persists, holding her, kissing her. She warns him that Aimable will hear.
Dominique declares his passion for her against her protests, but she is swept away by his words and her feelings. They'll meet an hour from now and run off somewhere together. She cannot resist him.
A sleepy Aimable calls down to Genevieve. She replies "In a minute" as he drops off to sleep. Alone she contemplates her situation and sings of the legend of the "Meadowlark" and realises she too has no choice but to fly away with her "beautiful young man."
A fire in the bakery's oven awakens the neighbours. The baker finds charred loaves. Ordinarily Genevieve is the early riser in the household. He calls for her and hurries out in search of her, thinking she has gone looking again for their cat Pompom. A little crowd gathers and the gossip begins again, this time about the charred bread and the missing wife.
Aimable returns empty handed. No cat. No wife. The villagers continue their whispering as he enters his bakery looking for at least a note, but there is none. The crowd sings "Buzz-A-Buzz." The Marquis arrives and, away from the group, tells Aimable that Genevieve has run off with his chauffeur in the Marquis' automobile. Philippe, the driver's pal, confirms the story, but Aimable refuses to accept the explanation. The villagers beg Philippe to tell all, and the first act concludes with the Marquis threatening to go to the police to report the theft of his elegant Peugeot. Dominique will be arrested and Genevieve as well. Outside the bakery the gossips continue, relishing outrageous tales of jealousy, lust, and revenge - all the wonderful things that make life worth living in France.
At the cafe Denise reprises her "Chanson," as she had opened the first act. The villagers at the cafe keep an eye on the baker across the way and are relieved to see him preparing a new batch of dough. They tease one another about wives being unfaithful creatures. The priest, the teacher, and others join in to sing another version of Act 1's "If It Wasn't For You," the priest accusing the immoral conduct of the villagers as responsible for corrupting the baker's wife, the teacher contradicting the priest saying Genevieve chose freely, and the Marquis, scoffing at them all, chalking it up to fate and the weakness of the flesh.
Aimable crosses to the cafe to announce the bread will be ready shortly. He, who never drinks, orders a cognac, and another, and in a tipsy state sings "Any-Day-Now Day," a toast to his missing wife, whom he insists is only away visiting her mother. The baker becomes more and more inebriated. The villagers try to sober him up and follow him back to the bakery which they find in a terrible state: flour spilled everywhere, dough hanging from the ceiling like stalactites in a cave, loaves of bread burned and heavy as stones. Aimable collapses in the rubble.
The bakery is closed. The villagers believe the town is cursed and blame the baker's wife for the disaster that has struck. In an effort to cheer up the baker and put him back to his chores, they urge him to consider the advantages of his being free of marital blisters, pointing out he's a fortunate man spared the quarrels and boredom of married life. They insist he's the "Luckiest Man In The World." (They want his good bread back on the shelf.)
The Marquis comes in to offer his two cents suggesting what the baker needs is "Feminine Companionship" and offers to "loan" him his nieces. The priest is shocked at what he sees: the nieces flirting with, surrounding, and fondling the baker. The priest harangues against the conduct. The Marquis feuds with the priest. The villagers chime into the fray. Losing control, Aimable throws all of them out of his shop.
A town meeting in the church is called. Arguments erupt among the villagers. Aimable joins the congregation and admits to everyone that he knew Genevieve had run off - not to see her mother. He turns over his life savings to the Marquis to avoid the hunting down and imprisonment of the young lovers.
After he leaves the church, members of the community agree nonetheless to track down the couple. Alone inside the bakery, Aimable sings "If I Have To Live Alone."
At a meeting of the villagers at the cafe, Antoine bursts in claiming to have found the couple in a small hotel in a nearby town. The villagers swiftly agree on a search party, a triad made up of the Marquis, the priest, and the teacher, to go after the outcasts and urge the baker's wife to return home.
The women of the village comment bitterly on "Romance," describing the realities one confronts in a relationship between a man and a woman.
The scene changes to a small hotel room. Genevieve and Dominique are together but disenchanted with one another. While she admits to her passion for her handsome young lover, she asks "Where's Is The Warmth?" He is asleep on the bed as she gathers her few things and leaves him there.
The search party encounters Genevieve at a bus stop on her way to Marseilles. They implore her to return to the village. She answers that she can never go home again. The three men convince the pretty outcast to return... all sins are forgivable.
In anticipation of her arrival, the villagers are asked to return to their homes so as not to embarrass Genevieve when she arrives. The only one not to is Thérèse who refuses to withdraw. But the teacher convinces her with a passionate kiss which she interprets as a proposal of marriage. She runs off saying she'll expect him the next morning for the formal announcement.
Escorted by the priest and the Marquis, Genevieve walks through the empty street to the bakery and approaches the door hesitantly. It is a tense and awkward moment as Genevieve and Aimable confront one another. She tries to tell him the truth but he refuses to accept any story except that she ran off to visit her mother. He offers her his dinner. Just then they hear their cat Pompom at the window. Aimable bitterly scolds the wicked cat for running off after some hot, young tom and then offers it a saucer of milk. Together Aimable and Genevieve prepare to start tomorrow's bread and light the oven.
At the cafe Denise begins the new day and the villagers assemble and together sing their "Chanson" again.
- Any Day-Now Day
- The Baking
- Endless Delights
- Feminine Companionship
- For You
- Gifts of Love
- I Could Never Get Enough
- If I Have To Live Alone
- If It Wasn't For You
- A Little Taste of Heaven
- Look For the Woman
- The Luckiest Man in the World
- Merci, Madame
- New Musketeers
- Not In the Market
- A Pan For Pain
- Perfect Eevery Time
- Plain and Simple
- Proud Lady
- Something's Got To Be Done
- Welcome to Concorde
- What's A Man To Do?
- When She Gets Home Tomorrow
- Where is the Warmth?
- Aimable - Middle-aged, jolly, warm-hearted (Tenor)
- Barnaby - The butcher
- Claude - Denise's husband, chummy
- Denise - Settled cafe proprietor ( Soprano)
- Dominique - Sexy, self-assured handyman ( Baritone)
- Genevieve - Beautiful, secretly unsatisfied ( Mezzo-Soprano)
- Hortense - The butcher's wife
- M. le Marquis - Mayor with three 'nieces'
- Marquis' "Nieces"
- Men of the Village
- Philippe - 19 years old
- Pom Pom - The cat
- Priest M. le Curé
- Thérèse - A spinster
Keyboard 1 Piano (electric, fender, jangle, tack), Bass Guitar, Celeste, Harp, and Vibes
Keyboard 2 Banjo, Bass Clarinet, Bass Guitar, Bassoon, Bells, Brass, Celeste, Cello (Pizz.), Chime, DX7 (Bells, Japan Drum 2, Trumpets), D50 (Ensemble, Vibes), Ensemble (Chamber, Full), Harp, HarpsiBells, Harpsichord, HarpsiGlock, Flute, Guitar (acoustic, chorus), Harmonium, Horn, Organ (Harmonium), Piano (Electric, Fender, FM, Jangle, Tacky), Sax, Snare Drum, Strings (Tremolo), SynClavier, Synth Drums, Trumpet, Trombone (Wa Wa), Tuba, Vibes, Violin (harmonic), Voice (“oo”), Vox & Sax, Vox & Saws, Xylophone; Percussion; Reed 1 (recorder, flute, piccolo); Reed 2 (oboe, English horn); Reed 3 (clarinet, flute, tenor saxophone); Reed 4 (bassoon), Violin
¯ Listen to the Music (You will need to have Real Player installed and Java Script enabled - Real Player can be downloaded from here also)
Original 1990 London Cast Recording. Click on picture to buy.