The Baker's Wife, one of those musicals with a beloved score but not a sensational history of productions, emerges from the oven once more in a revised form in which the recipe has been slightly changed by its authors, composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz and book writer Joseph Stein.
The musical drawn from the 1938 film by Marcel Pagnol begins anew starting Nov. 7 at Goodspeed Musicals' developmental space, the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT.
Christiane Noll (Jekyll & Hyde) plays the title role of Genevieve, who flees with a younger man (Adam Monley), leaving her older husband (played by Lenny Wolpe) bereft — and their French village in turmoil.
The romantic musical comedy, which is a trimmer version of the Trevor Nunn-directed London script from 1989, plays to Dec. 1. Gordon Greenberg directs. Warren Carlyle choreographs, Georgia Stitt is musical director.
Schwartz and Stein and Greenberg are taking the best of the 1976 original (which died in the road and never made it to Broadway) and the best of the 1989 London version and a stock/amateur cutting that followed and forming an improved hybrid for Goodspeed. For several regional productions in the last decade, "what we essentially did was take the London version and make it shorter, frankly," Schwartz told Playbill On-Line. "And we did a little bit of other work, as well, for this production at Goodspeed."
The pre-Broadway tryout in 1976 and the revised staging in London were larger in scale, but Schwartz said, "I've seen several productions since then that have been much more human in scale and more appropriate for the show. It's an intimate story, and a delicate story. I think it's a show that has tonal things in common with shows like She Loves Me and 110 in the Shade, which are difficult to pull off in very big, overproduced venues."
"I really felt Trevor, who helped us dramaturgically and directed the show first in Ipswich and then in London, came up with the solution for the storytelling for the show, and the focus," Schwartz said. "The show came a long way under his tutelage. I felt our problems in London had to do with a couple of casting choices and the length, and Joe agreed. It was too much given the size and content of the show."
The idea of making the village the protagonist was Trevor Nunn's notion. "It's really about the transformation wrought in these individuals because of this small event," Schwartz explained. "Obviously the baker and his wife are the center of the story, but it's really the story of this entire village, and that was Trevor's discovery."
The show begins with a character, Denise, who sings "Chanson," saying, according to Schwartz: "When you live someplace where nothing much changes year after year, a small event can be big — it can even change your life."
There have been wholesale cuts from the London score, which is preserved on a two-disc cast album. In Connecticut, you won't hear "Plain and Simple," "Look for the Woman," "Endless Delights" or "Buzz-a-Buzz." There are also cuts within numbers, and there are new sections of songs and new reprises.
Fans have embraced the score since its original studio cast album using members of the 1976 road cast (Paul Sorvino, Patti LuPone, Kurt Peterson). "Chanson," "Meadowlark," "Proud Lady" and "Where Is the Warmth?" remain among Schwartz's better-known songs (and still exist in this latest version of the show).
Schwartz said the musical variety also remains in the show: "I don't think there was any flavor that was eliminated, wholesale, by any means. The French music hall numbers still exist, the Edith Piaf-y numbers, the more impressionistic Debussey and Ravel things are still there, and the French folk-song influences. They are still heavily featured in the score."
Comparing his scores, Schwartz said The Baker's Wife is, in musical flavor, a cousin to his score for the Disney TV movie, "Geppetto." "That's sort of Italian in the way The Baker's Wife is French," he said. "'Geppetto' derives from various Italian folk idioms."
Schwartz penned the scores for Pippin, Godspell, The Magic Show, Children of Eden and the upcoming Wicked, based on the novel that tells the story of the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, of the "Oz" stories.
The cast of Goodspeed's The Baker's Wife includes Wendi Bergamini as Inez; Larry Brustofski as Claude; Jedidiah Cohen as the Priest; Kevin Del Aguila as Antoine; Drew Eshelman as Pierre; Christy Faber as Simone; Laurent Giroux will portray Marquis; Russell Leib as the Teacher; Gay Marshall as Denise; Michael Medeiros as Barnaby; Jan Neuberger as Therese; Maureen Russell as Nicole; Ron Lee Savin as Domerque; Juanita Walsh as portray Hortense; Craig Wilson as Philippe.
The musical was famously shut down on the road by its original producer, David Merrick, in 1976 after six months. Topol and later Paul Sorvino played the Baker in the road run, which also saw changes in the creative team. The cast included Keene Curtis, David Rounds and Portia Nelson. Schwartz and Stein both asked Merrick to close the show on the road, and the famed producer did so, though Stein said the impresario probably would have been happy to pour money into it and attempt to run.
What attracted Schwartz to it back in the 1970s?
"Two things," he said. "I liked the ending of the story. There's a wonderful scene — which I won't give away — with the baker and his wife at the very end. I liked that scene; I found it moving and psychologically interesting. And I like the French locale, the Provencal locale. What I have grown to appreciate about the show has to do with the village; that's what I don't think I got when we were first doing the show."
This version is "pretty close" to the version being done in the stock and amateur market. It's possible cuts or changes for the Goodspeed run could be made available on an "amendments" page for the stock and amateur script, he said.
For information about Goodspeed Musicals, visit www.goodspeed.org.
— By Kenneth Jones