The Baker’s Wife with music and lyrics by Wicked’s Stephen Schwartz and book by Joseph Stein plays at The Union Theatre in a production that kneads a bit more work in order to rise to perfection. But enough puns about bread, they’re the yeast of my problems.
The production, which lasted only 56 performances in London in 1989, has been revived in the railway arches of The Union. The tale of a remote village which has been without bread for seven weeks, as their former baker had a terrible accident whilst drinking. They are over-joyed when their new baker arrives to take over with his young and very attractive wife. In a nutshell: everyone is happy that there is bread, nobody can believe that the wife can be happy with her much older husband, a man called Dominique makes his advances, she runs away with him, the baker stops baking and gets very drunk, the village decide they need bread and head out to look for the wife, they find her, she returns (oddly at the same time as their missing cat), there is a moment where he compares his wife to the stray cat, she apologises, they start making bread again.
That is a very hurried synopsis of what happens, but the story lacks any real grit or depth. Scenes develop rather too quickly, the question on everyone’s lips at the interval was why on earth would the Baker’s Wife, played by Lisa Stokke, leave her husband, who is loving and attentive, for a burly, chauvinistic womaniser played by Matthew Goodgame. Goodgame, who plays the part of Dominique in the style of Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, captures the audience’s attention with good vocals but I failed to see the appeal in his advances when physically forces himself on the Baker’s Wife, Genevieve.
Despite a plotline that is all a bit doughy, the ensemble sings some rousing chorus numbers that really promote the fun of the piece. However, there are two performances that really make this worth the visit. Ricky Butt, who plays the long suffering Denise, the wife of the local Barman, has great vocals and an inviting, knowing air about her that allows her to become our guide to the village. For me, the biggest treat is the performance of Michael Matus as The Baker. Recently in Lend me a Tenor, to be in such an intimate venue with his voice is a delight, and he is beautifully accompanied by Chris Mundy on piano and some gorgeous cello playing. Matus flourishes with his rich, warm and powerful voice. I could have quite happily sat and listened to much more given the opportunity.
There are many nice moments in this show and the cast work hard with the material. I found some parts of direction a little tedious, for example every single solo number resulted in the vocalist moving backwards and ending spread across the back wall, but the general movement of the piece was well rehearsed.
Not to be taken too seriously, this is an enjoyable piece of theatre, just not the most exciting.
The Baker’s Wife is playing at the Union Theatre until 15th October. For information and tickets, see the Union Theatre website.