Saturday, September 26, 2015

Review: Actors Co-op's The Baker's Wife

The company of The Baker's Wife. Photos by Lindsay Schnebly

Yes, it’s true. “Too much truth can be hard to digest.” By the time those words are spoken in the second act of The Baker’s Wife it’s been made painfully clear that everyone in this provincial French village needs a healthy dose of reality.

It’s 1935 and the only baker in town has died. What a tragedy for these unfortunate townspeople who have been forced to exist without the comfort of their croissants and baguettes for weeks. When we meet them at the top of the show, they are squabbling incessantly over the stupidest things. In fact, two of them don’t even know why they fight, but their fathers and grandfathers did before them so they’ve continued the feud like lemmings. (Sounds like a lot of the world, right?)

You’d think that when a new baker arrives in town they would all stop arguing and be happy to have their bread at last but even when they get what they want, they still don’t stop bickering. The moral of the story will come late in the day. Until then, get ready for a hefty dose of chauvinism among men who treat their wives like dirt and women who pretend it doesn’t matter. It’s a town that makes a poor case for marriage, but then again, if any of them actually responded to each other with honesty and respect there would be no need to tell this fable so on we go.

When the new baker (Greg Baldwin) arrives with his pretty young wife (Chelle Denton) we see that even they have adopted a false reality to keep up appearances. We learn a little about them but not enough to really become invested in their situation. A handsome young man (Nick Echols) will convince her to run away with him but even that is a false reality she will come to regret. 

The musical is based on Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono’s French film La Femme de Boulanger, adapted by Joseph Stein (book) and Stephen Schwartz (music & lyrics), here directed by Richard Israel, an expert in staging intimate musicals with precision and charm. He does that again with this production but because the tale is a basic one stretched out over more stage time than it really needs to tell the story, the success of the show rests with the actors’ ability to offer emotional depth that isn’t written on the page. Among this set of players that ability is inconsistent, and since more time is spent on the townspeoples irritating behavior rather than the plight of its leading players, it becomes tiresome. Still, the show does spring to life in some of its more celebratory slice of life moments where the cast comes together as one.
Schwartz’s score is a true delight with musical director Jake Anthony at the helm. He leads a 5-member band consisting of piano, accordion, flute & recorder, bass, and percussion (including a washboard and spoons). The choral sound he achieves with the ensemble is heavenly and rest assured the show’s most well-known song “Meadowlark” is ably sung by Denton. Music theatre fans who have never seen the show -- and that is almost everyone since the show is not often revived -- will love hearing the score sung live (the best way to experience any musical score).

Julie Hall’s spirited choreography incorporates traditional production number dance staging into songs like “Bread” that happily adds a measure of unexpected humor. Rich Roses picturesque set and Wendell C. Carmichaels Tuscany-inspired costume designs lend a vintage peasant charm to the visuals.

What I have always enjoyed about Actors Co-op is that they choose musicals that require them to take a risk. Theyre often musicals you don’t see everyday – musicals with a message populated by colorful characters – musicals that make you think. Like previous productions 110 in the Shade, The World Goes Round, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and The Spitfire GrillThe Baker’s Wife fits that mission to a T.

Chelle Denton (Genevieve) and Greg Baldwin (Aimable, the Baker)

Rachel Hirshee, Lindsey Schuberth, Greyson Chadwick & Christopher Maikish

Chelle Denton (Genevieve) and Nick Echols (Dominique)

Greyson Chadwick, Lindsey Schuberth, Rachel Hirshee and Greg Baldwin

Sept 16 – Oct 25, 2015
Actors Co-op
1760 N. Gower Street, Los Angeles, CA 90028
--on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood

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