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On Stage

The Baker's Wife

Rising to the occasion

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I have a note for the powers that be at Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center: If you’re going to have two big events happening at the same time, please make sure you have more than one ticket window open.

Thanks to last Friday night’s scheduling overlap of The Baker’s Wife and the Last Comic Standing competition—which led to lines snaking through the lobby, into a long hallway and down some stairs—I almost didn’t make it into the theater in time to see the opening lines.

But I persevered (alright, I cut in line), and I’m glad I did. The musical by Stephen Schwartz—he of Godspell and Pippin fame—has a little bit of everything, including catchy, lovely songs performed by onstage musicians, a questionable love triangle, humor and pathos.

Director Jim Lortz did a lot of things right when it came to telling the story of the people in a small village in 1930s France who are hungering for the services of a new baker. For one thing, the stage settings are very spare, and the primary focus is on the songs and the relationships between the townsfolk—not the minutia of props.

“Deciding on the idea of using no real props, instead miming them, confused and challenged the actors,” Lortz says in the program notes for the play. “I wanted to limit the acting areas, to find ways to tell the story in a way that wasn’t a copy of a copy of a copy of other productions of The Baker’s Wife.”

I can’t compare Lortz’s version to others, as this was the first iteration of the musical I’d seen, but I can attest to the fact that hewing to his vision kept the flow of storytelling moving at an enviable clip.

Although the play’s focus in on a baker named Amiable (Christopher Quilici) and his new, much younger wife Genevieve (Ashley Hanson)—who move to town to replace the longtime baker who recently died—the villagers are also a vital ingredient of the play.

For example, they’re the ones who are lusting so mightily for a new baker, and they are also those who propel the story forward when Genevieve runs off with a handsome young man named Dominique (played with savvy sexiness by the talented Nick Perry, who just about steals the show).

Finding themselves once again without bread and pastries while the baker bemoans his sudden loss, the people of the town forget their differences and band together to try to return the baker’s wife to her husband.

On the surface, the plot could be simplified to be about bodily hunger and the need to fill it. But dig deeper, and it’s clear those in the village, including the baker and his wife, don’t just need to satiate their stomachs. Everybody’s missing something—whether it’s true love, friendship or an errant cat—and they rise to the occasion to make sure their needs get met.

The Baker’s Wife reassures us that it’s never too late to make up for your mistakes or to shift your relationships,” co-director Elizabeth Freebairn says. “It explores the journey from chaos to community, from animosity to friendship. It reclaims lost connections and examines the search for new passion.”

To that, I’d add that it’s never too late to admit you’re wrong, and to make amends to make things right. It’s a lesson that bears repeating, and, in this case, is a recipe for success.

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