Plano — Irony: When a theater called PFAMILY ARTS—the first four letters stand for Plano, Frisco, Allen, McKinney—puts on a play that takes a chainsaw to any notion of the word “family,” as it applies towards anything at all positive. The Baker’s Wife, by Stephen Schwartz of Wicked and Godspell fame, is an adaptation of a 1930’s French film. And oh, it is so French. Even a well-executed production of the musical can’t redeem this terrible story.
A small French village’s baker has died. Hence, there is no one to bake fresh bread for them. Fear not, though, as the town has hired a new baker and eagerly await his arrival. In the interim, the audience learns that the men of the town are sophomoric pigs who bicker amongst each other and treat their wives terribly.
Enter the baker, Amiable (Bill Jenkins), a jovial middle-aged man. While some of the men show him his new home, a beautiful young woman enters the village. Everyone in the town—especially the men—is immediately taken by the striking woman, Genevieve (Katie Moyes-Williams). When she asks about the baker, it is assumed that she is his daughter. Obviously, this isn’t the case or the show would be misleadingly named.
The fact that the older baker is married to an attractive younger woman gives the show, the book written by Joseph Stein, a lot of cheap hits making light and confusion of the age difference; this coming from a part of the world where until recently it was perfectly normal for an older man to marry a younger woman. But, whatever. It takes place in the 1930’s and it’s a convenient story device. That’s not the biggest quibble with this middling show that never made it to Broadway.
It bears repeating that the men of this town are despicable by just about anyone’s definition. The café owner (Francis Henry) and the butcher (Shane Strawbridge) are unabashedly mean to their wives. The butcher specifically borders on psychological abuse with how demeaning he is to the woman that at some point, somehow, he apparently loved.
Beyond the married men are the mayor of the town, Le Marquis (Hunter Lewis), who traipses around town with three mistresses flanking him, and his bodyguard Philippe (Dominic Pecikonis) who immediately begins trying to steal Genevieve from Amiable the second she gets to town, marriage vows be damned.
To her credit, Genevieve coldly resists the man…for a while. The town is thrown into turmoil when she finally gives in and absconds with the young man, leaving the baker depressed and alone. The town quickly rallies to find her, but not because they feel for the baker. They miss their bread.
Of course there’s a happy ending. But, it’s so forced and trite, and no one really learns any kind of lesson. The only redeemable character in the entire show is the baker. Even the abused wives are catty busybodies. There’s absolutely nothing that makes this a story worth telling. I haven’t seen the original film, but here’s hoping it didn’t try so hard to be a rom-com.
Giving credit where it’s due, Schwartz’s music is engaging and natural. The songs aren’t shoehorned in, but genuinely work with the events of the plot. As with the rest of the show, the only objectionable element is the story itself. It’s not impossible to see the appeal of putting it on.
Considering the questionable source material, the production is fine. The cast is talented. Moyes-Williams takes a star turn as the conflicted title character. And save for a few anachronisms—some modern fixtures and set pieces—the show is nicely put together. Also, someone who understands alcohol needs to consult on the show. Often, the café owner’s wife, Emily Haynes, would only put a drop in the plastic wine glasses used for the production. But that’s nothing compared to the complete lack of knowledge concerning cognac. First, it’s served in a wine glass instead of a snifter. Then, when the baker decides to get drunk, it takes him less than a minute and only two gulps of cognac. There are small details. The kinds of things most people won’t notice, but they show a lack of consideration.
Sadly though, this is one of those cases where the choice of show is so bad that it overwhelms an otherwise decent production by director William R. Park. The set design (no credit given in the program) is intuitive and inviting, the acting is believable, and the singing is excellent. But, there’s a reason most have never heard of this show despite its famous author. Most of the characters are just plain bad people, the plot structure takes what could be an interesting examination of human motivation and cheapens it by trying to force a happy ending on to it.
Why this old French film interested Schwartz enough to turn it into a musical makes for interesting speculation. He wasn’t the first to attempt it, so maybe it really just was an assignment and a producer is to blame. Either way, the only thing to take out of this production is that PFamily Arts has a nice facility, some good talent, and ample resources. Now all they need is the bread.