While Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked continues to attract audiences worldwide, the composer/lyricist’s 1976 musical adaptation of the film La Femme du boulanger, written with librettist Joseph Stein, is rarely staged.
Thank goodness then for the London Fringe (it was at the Union in 2011) and, on this occasion, the relatively new Drayton Arms Theatre.
It’s 1935 and the inhabitants of a tiny rural village in Provence are desperate – they have had no bread to eat for weeks. Salvation comes in the shape of new baker Aimable (Gary Bland) and his much younger bride, Genevieve (Holli Paige Farr). When the latter is whisked away by the dashing Dominique (Adam Redford), it doesn’t just change the baker’s relationship forever, but has an influence on everyone else’s friendships and marriages too.
Director Marc Kelly deftly positions the often laugh-out-loud, fast-paced humour of this witty piece alongside scenes that require a stillness and pathos (demonstrated by Farr’s soaring rendition of Meadowlark – probably the best-known song in Schwartz’s wonderfully lush score – and Bland’s heartfelt interpretation of If I Have to Live Alone).
Elsewhere, within an all-round excellent ensemble (and some great harmonies and set pieces), there is some impressive character work, including Oliver Jacobson’s big-mouthed butcher Barnaby, Matthew Whitby’s snotty professor and sweet-voiced Elizabeth Chadwick’s much put-upon cafe owner.