July 19, 2008

Director Revives a Production That Nearly Slipped Through the Net

Andrew Hawkins is a busy director. His in-house production of Oliver! at Sterts Theatre, on the moor near Liskeard, opened at the beginning of the month and runs at intermittent dates until the end of August.

And last night his production of The Baker's Wife opened there too, with further performances tonight and next week.

It is performed by Selah Youth Theatre Company, the south Cornwall training group he has run since 2001 for young people keen on the theatre.

There are currently almost 200 members, divided into five age groups, who each meet once a week and more frequently when they are involved in a production.

Andrew has regularly led the company in their productions at Sterts, with Godspell last year, Sondheim's Into The Woods the previous year and Nicholas Nickleby the year before. The cast for The Baker's Wife consists of members aged 16 to 23.

The Baker's Wife, based on a book by Joseph Stein, best known for Fiddler On The Roof, and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, composer of Godspell, is something of a forgotten musical.

The narrative originated back in 1935 as an episode in a novel by Jean Giono. Marcel Pagnol made a classic movie from it, called La Femme du Boulanger, and this was followed by a stage play. More than 30 years later the film was brought to the notice of famed American producer David Merrick who, as ever, was on the look out for material he could plunder for Broadway.

His staging opened its pre-New York tour in Los Angeles in May 1976, but en route lost its director and its star, Topol, who was such a hit in Fiddler, and the limping production finally expired without reaching Broadway.

That might have been the end of the story had Trevor Nunn, whose successes include Cats and Les Miserables (and flops like the recently failed Gone with the Wind), not heard one of the songs, Meadowlark, constantly sung by actresses auditioning for him.

Captivated and intrigued by the number, he sought out Schwartz and Stein, and between them they revised the show, and added some new songs.

It's a charmingly gallic musical, totally unlike blockbusters such as Phantom, or rock inspired productions. But, performed in the West End in 1989, again it failed to attract audiences, and I'm not aware of any revival.

This production will therefore be a golden opportunity to catch one of the "nearly" musicals that slipped through the net.

The plot is a simple one. Set in the sleepy French village of Concorde, where the chief occupation seems to be engaging in disputes with neighbours, the arrival of new baker Aimable Castagnet ends the months the inhabitants have been without a baker, bereft of their baguettes and croissants.

But they relish even more the gossip when Genevieve, Aimable's beautiful wife of half his age, is seduced by Dominic, the muscular stud handyman servant of the local marquis.

Salacious tittle-tattle soon ceases, however, when the result of his wife's defection renders the baker unable to produce bread. The quarrelsome villagers must find a way of persuading Genevieve to return to the marital bed.

The Baker's Wife is on at Sterts tonight and next Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 24, 25 and 26 at 7.30pm. More information and tickets can be obtained by calling Sterts box office on 01579 362382.

Read more theatre reviews and previews, on www.whatsonsouthwest.co.uk

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