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The Baker's Wife, Background Info

Notes on the making of
The Baker's Wife

by Carol de Giere

This musical took on a life of its own in the mid 70's and turned back to tease its creators. After the show failed on its route to Broadway for an array of reasons, the cast album became a cult hit and kept the show alive. Requests for productions and revivals involved the composer-lyricist and bookwriter in efforts to fully realize their original intention for a touching and funny little show.

Major revivals included Trevor Nunn's in London and a York Theatre production in the mid 80's. Though the London production did not survive, for the 1989/90 season the show received a nomination for The Laurence Olivier Awards for "Musical of the Year," alongside Miss Saigon and others.

The creative team worked on it again at Goodspeed and saw their original dream fulfilled in the Paper Mill Playhouse production in April/May 2005.

In his update for The Schwartz Scene newsletter, Stephen Schwartz wrote, "Joe Stein and I have also done a little further sprucing up of The Baker's Wife, preparatory to next year's Paper Mill Playhouse production. Basically, we were very happy with the version done a couple of seasons ago at Goodspeed, but we felt we could still improve the writing of the relationship between the characters of Genevieve and Dominique. So Joe did some scene revisions, and I wrote some new lyrics (yet again) for 'Proud Lady.'" Schwartz has also written new dance music for the show and is working with the director and cast.

Creative Issues

Besides casting issues and finding the right length for the production, the greatest challenge has been discovering the right center of attraction for the show. Over the years, focus has narrowed to a simple love triangle and then broadened back to that of a an entire French village as group protagonist. In the community-oriented versions, petty struggles give way as villagers strive to fulfill culinary needs, help a couple in trouble, and grow to become more tolerant individuals.

The original cast album includes a summary of the show by Paul Sorvino that touches on some of the deepest concerns of the tale. "The Baker's Wife is a love story. Almost a fable. The French town of Concorde, having been without a baker for six weeks is filled with anticipation at the arrival of master baker Aimable Castagnie. ...[The baker and his wife arrive but when Aimable's wife runs off with an amorous young villager] Aimable is shattered. He cannot accept the reality of it. .... At first the villagers find great fun in the cuckolded baker's misfortune and make him an object of ridicule. Until his pain and sweetness force them to open their hearts and try to help them. What happens then to Aimable and Genevieve provide one of the most memorable and touching endings in all of American theatre." --Paul Sorvino, Album notes for the original cast album.

Not Since Carrie includes Baker's Wife flop informationKen Mandelbaum, in his book Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops, includes several pages of comments about why The Baker's Wife original version flopped. One of his arguements is that the material which ideally suited the original film version would not work so well on stage.

Background - Source material

Anyone fascinated by the puzzle of the show will enjoy seeing the original French movie that is available on black and white video.

Readers can trace the tale back to the original novel by Jean Giono, translated by Katherine Clark. Blue Boy[new browser window]

Born in 1895, in his early 30's Jean Giono wrote an autobiographical novel based on his experiences and observations growing up as son of a shoemaker in Manosque in Southern France. As a youth he spent summers on a sheep ranch. At the beginning of a 15-page section he wrote, "The baker's wife ran off with the shepherd...." and the tale of challenged fidelity began in the context of a tiny town dependent on its one baker. The story was published in 1932 as part of Jean Le Bleu, published later in English as Blue Boy.

Some of the fascinating travails of the original musical are mentioned in the David Merrick biography The Abominable Showman. Others will be covered in my forthcoming book on the musicals of Stephen Schwartz.

cover for David Merrick book

David Merrick: The Abominable Showman:... [new browser window]

Video of 1938 movie

The Baker's Wife movie on video with English Subtitles is now available at Amazon.com. This is not the musical but the original black and white film on which the musical was based.

video cover showing lead actorsBuy The Baker's Wife Movie video [new browser window]

Baker's Wife Song History -- lists from show revisions and recordings

Notes from Carol de Giere. These lists are from my interviews with Stephen Schwartz and from the Paper Mill Playhouse website. (Subscribe to Carol's free newsletter that includes updates from Stephen Schwartz. Watch for more info on The Baker's Wife forthcoming issues).

Musical Numbers for the Los Angeles opening, 1976
Welcome to Concorde
A Little Taste of Heaven
Gifts of Love
Bread
Proud Lady
Serenade
Meadowlark
Any-Day-Now-Day
Something's Got to Be Done/Romance/Endless Delights (medley)
The Luckiest Man in the World
If I Have to Live Alone
Where is the Warmth?
Finale

Musical Numbers for York Theatre 1985
Chanson
Voila
Bread
Proud Lady
Chanson (reprise)
Serenade
Meadowlark
Any-Day-Now-Day
Chanson (reprise)
I Could Never Get Enough of You
Feminine Companionship
If I Have to Live Alone
New Musketeers
Where Is The Warmth?
Finale

Musical Numbers Recorded from London Show, 1989
Chanson
If It Wasn't For You
Merci, Madame
Bread
Gifts of Love
Plain and Simple
Proud Lady
Look For the Woman
Chanson (reprise)
Serenade
Meadowlark
Buzz-a-buzz
Chanson (reprise)
If it Wasn't for You (reprise)
Any-Day-Now-Day
Endless Delights
The Luckiest Man in the World/Feminine Companionship
If I Have to Live Alone
Romance
Where Is the Warmth?
Gifts of Love (reprise)
Finale

Musical Numbers for Goodspeed Theatre Production, 2002
Chanson
If It Wasn't For You
Merci, Madame
Bread
Gifts of Love
Proud Lady
Chanson (reprise)
Serenade
Meadowlark
If it Wasn't for You (reprise)
Any-Day-Now-Day
Chanson (reprise)
The Luckiest Man in the World/Feminine Companionship
If I Have to Live Alone
Romance
Where Is the Warmth?
Finale

Paper Mill Playhouse - Spring 2005

Chanson,
If It Wasn't For You,
Merci Madame,
Bread,
Gifts of Love,
Proud Lady,
If It Wasn't For You (Reprise),
Chanson (Reprise),
Serenade,
Meadowlark,
Any Day Now,
Chanson (Reprise),
The World's Luckiest Man/Feminine Companionship,
If It Wasn't For You (Reprise),
If I have to Live Alone,
Romance,
Where is the Warmth?
Gifts of Love (Reprise),
Finale

Stephen Schwartz's Comments

Follow this link to Stephen's answers on picky questions about songs for the Paper Mill production

Question posted on his discussion forum at StephenSchwartz.com:

Shawn: It strikes me as interesting that you are one of a very select group of composer's to have successfully bridged the gap between traditional show music (whatever that is) and contemporary pop. Do you think that your success has influenced new writers in their approach to composing for the musical theatre? Also, THE BAKER'S WIFE is the only score you've written for the theatre that I would classify as not being directly influenced by a 'contemporary pop' sound. I understand that the score was influenced by Debussy as well as Brel and French folk music. What made you decide to not incorporate any 'contemporary pop' sound into that score? Just curious... Thanks – Shawn

PS Recently picked up the "PERSONALS" London cast recording and love
your contributions!

Dear Shawn: Thanks for the compliments. Actually I think of the BAKER'S WIFE as sort of "closet" pop -- there's a sneaky little pop sensibility around the edges, particularly in songs like "Meadowlark" and "Chanson". If you don't play and sing those songs with a little sense of pop to them, they come out sounding pretty flat. But it seemed to me that it was inappropriate to write a real pop score for a story that was supposed to be taking place in 1931 in provincial France. (Yes, I know they sort of wrote pop for LES MIZ, but no one actually believes that feels as if it's taking place in 1815 or whenever it's supposed to be, do they?) I have done the same thing for the score to my upcoming television show GEPPETTO, which takes place in 19th century rural Italy -- used Italian folk and opera influences. But that score too has little closety pop elements to it. You'll see what you think when you hear it. Thanks again for writing. Best, Stephen Schwartz

Origins of The Baker's Wife Original Cast Album

Here Stephen Schwartz answers a question about it:

"Hi Michael: At the time of the original production of THE BAKER'S WIFE, which was obviously pre-CDs and home studios, it was virtually unheard of for there to be a cast recording of a pre-Broadway show that didn't make it to Broadway. Thus it was with surprise and delight that I heard from the (then) husband-and-wife team of Bruce and Doris Yeko, who had seen the show out-of-town and wanted to preserve the score. There was no budget to pay the entire cast, so it was decided to eliminate the chorus numbers and do only those songs that involved the principals (a decision that was good for the record both economically and artistically, but which actually made it take longer to fix the show itself, since it mistakenly gave the impression that the show should focus more exclusively on the central story.) The record did not represent any actual performance of the show, since there had been no single performance in which all the songs chosen for the album had been in the show at the same time, but I selected those numbers I thought should make up the core of the score, and they have basically done so ever since. Because I had experience as a record producer, I produced the album, and the Yekos financed it and served as executive producers. Although to this day I have never received one penny in roylaties for the album, I am still grateful to the Yekos for preserving the score and thus starting the BAKER'S WIFE on its (her?) road back to life. Thanks for your interest, Stephen Schwartz

[Original 1976 Broadway Cast], Take Home Tunes, 1997 The Baker's Wife [Original Soundtrack] [new browser window]

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