The Baker’s Wife by Artistry, performing at the Bloomington Center For The Arts

Jill Iverson and Bradley Greenwald in The Baker's Wife. Photo by Hilary Roberts.

Jill Iverson and Bradley Greenwald in The Baker’s Wife. Photo by Hilary Roberts.

Steven Schwartz and Joseph Stein’s rarely seen The Baker’s Wife (Artistry, performing at the Bloomington Center For The Arts) is a difficult little musical. A darkly comic comment on the fallibility of human relationships and romantic impulses, it is as unsettling and tricky a love story as there is. To succeed, it must bring its audience into the uncomfortable position of feeling and accepting both the absurdity and the tragic strife that result from interpersonal hubris. In other words, this is no breezy affair. Bravo to Artistry for taking the risk of mounting the show.

The story begins weeks after the baker of a small, provincial 1930s French town has suddenly died, leaving the secluded community without the baguettes and croissants they so desperately depend on. As they wait for a new baker to arrive, their frustration grows and long-standing conflicts bubble to the surface, igniting gossip and public disputes.

Into this scene bursts the good-natured baker Aimable (Bradley Greenwald) and his young wife Genevieve (Jill Iverson). While their disparate ages initially fuel suspicion, the couple is welcomed and prized after he produces delectable pastries. But when the young, handsome Dominique (Philip C. Matthews) becomes infatuated with Genevieve and decides to seduce her, Genevieve is forced to examine her life and choose between familiarity and passion. Her decision will ultimately leave the town forever changed.

Undeniably, the heart of the show is Greenwald’s Aimable. In addition to lending rich, robust vocals throughout, he gives Aimable a sincere romanticism, girded with playful, Chaplin-esque mannerisms. The character is a nuanced portrait of thinly veiled optimism and it is heartbreaking to watch this veneer stripped away over time.

Yet, despite Greenwald’s expressive turn, the character is ill-served by odd moments of madcap hijinks. Indeed, Benjamin McGovern’s direction too often fails to walk the fine line it’s attempting to tread between comic levity and the thematic darkness present in the book, leaning too heavily towards the comic and avoiding the truly dark. During the first half, the lightness emphasized and provided ironic contrast to the themes, but by maintaining this lightness throughout rather than pulling out the rug on its audience, it feels a bit slight.

Part of the issue is due the production’s use of generic lighting schemes and uninspired blocking and choreography, which lack crispness and feel cluttered. And although the rest of the cast cannot equal Greenwald’s ability to inject nuanced characterization, most of the principals are fine and have compelling vocals. Specifically, Aly Westberg as Denise opens the show with a lovely, clear “Chanson,” which serves as a poignant theme throughout. Additionally, the orchestra does a fine job with The Baker’s Wife’s delightful score, and the songs are quite charming throughout.

Despite this production’s flaws, however, the show nevertheless contains haunting melodies and challenging themes. And while this rendition represents somewhat of a missed opportunity, it serviceably enough captures the broad ideas of The Baker’s Wife – honest ideas worth exploring.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies at their site Movie Matrimony.

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