The Baker’s Wife continues at the Drayton Arms Theatre, London until 4 July.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
The French obsession with bread – even over the whereabouts of a loved-up runaway baker’s wife – is at the core of Stephen Schwartz’s sweet and tuneful musical comedy that never quite made it in the West End (lasted just 56 performances) and didn’t make it all to Broadway.
An intimate Fringe setting like the Drayton Arms or the Union in Southwark (where Michael Strassen’s 2011 revival was a sell-out) suits this mini-masterpiece well and director Marc Kelly gets the most out of a willing cast of 13 although the sound balance is a work in progress.
The story (book by Joseph Stein) centres on the arrival of a new baker and his pretty young wife in a small Provencal town and the havoc created when the local marquis’ lusty handyman lures her away from the much-older husband who idolises her.
Based on the 1938 film La Femme du Boulanger, it is not short of good songs (’Meadowlark’ is a cabaret classic and the recurring theme ‘If It Wasn’t For You’ is lovely) or humour (‘Bread’ is certainly not half-baked) and there are some wonderful ‘characters’, not least an oafish butcher, a prissy teacher and the Marquis’ three naughty ‘nieces’.
Not only is The Baker’s Wife a feast for eyes and ears, we even get the smell of freshly-baked baguettes to make us feel we’re actually there in the Cafe de Concorde – well done on a very French-looking set – which is run by the long-suffering Denise (nicely sung by producer Elizabeth Chadwick) and her husband Claude (Angus McIntyre).
It’s almost a fairy story but on stage it’s a real-life fairy story for Gary Bland as Aimable, the cuckolded baker. Bland runs an immigration business with his wife but his passion for musical theatre finally, on turning 50, led him to start taking singing lessons.
After honing his craft at open mic evenings, a promising debut in Damn Yankees at the Landor followed and now here he is taking his first lead and doing a terrific job. He has a most pleasing baritone bolstering the sincerity and honesty of his acting. He could easily have overplayed his gently drunk scene at the end of Act I but got it spot-on.
Holli Paige Farr as wife Genevieve has a pure voice but not a particularly powerful one and was somewhat overwhelmed by Kieran Stallard’s piano on the night I went, and a more striking impression was made by Adam Redford as her lover, a smooth operator in more ways than one.
Oliver Jacobson as the uncouth butcher and Amy Cooke-Hodgson as his disapproving better half, Icelandic actor Aron Trausti (priest) and Matthew Whitby (teacher) made the most of meaty parts as did Blair Robertson as the suave marquis who collects women as a hobby.
His harem of ‘nieces’, the flirty Lauren Harvey, Amy Lawton and Danielle Bond, add to the fun in a rousing finale that’s the icing on the cake… or do I mean bread?