The Baker's Wife is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and the book by Joseph Stein, based on the French film La Femme du Boulanger by Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono.
The production by Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein toured the United States for six months in 1976, undergoing major retoolings along the way. It played the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles in May 1976 and also the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC (in November 1976.) Topol as the baker Amiable, was replaced by Paul Sorvino during the last 2 weeks of the Kennedy Center run, and his wife Geneviève was played by Carole Demas who was eventually replaced by Patti LuPone. The production never reached Broadway, the authors having pulled out of the production in the try-out process. Several subsequent productions have followed to varying degrees of success.
From the CD Liner Notes:
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 Castagnic (Paul Sorvino.) Six weeks without bread has been a catastrophe for them. But the very first loaves from the new baker fulfill their wildest expectations. They are happy again.
Aimable is happy too. Here can be a new beginning; a new life for himself and his wife Genevieve (Patti LuPone.) But Geneveive is restless. Young, pretty and quickly pursued by Dominique (Kurt Peterson) and amorous young villager. The ingredients for the fable are arranged; Dominique and Genevieve run off together.
Aimable is shattered.
He cannot accept the reality of it. And he pretends that all is well. His darling Genevieve has merely gone to visit her mother...and she will be home very soon...any day now, in fact...
At first the villagers find great fun in the cuckolded baker's misfortunes and make him an object of ridicule. Until his pain and sweetness force them to open their hearts and try to help him.
What happened then to Aimable and Genevieve provides one of the most memorable and touching endings in all of American theatre. (Album Notes by Paul Sorvino.)
It's early autumn in this small provincial town, still surprisingly provincial in the mid-1930s; we see several tables occupied at the cafe. Denise, the wife of the proprietor, tends to her chores while singing "Chanson": first in French, then English. She sees the same faces every day, but sometimes, things can happen that change you, making life different and new.
Focus is shifted to the customers at the tables. Bits of conversation are heard: complaints from a gardener whose neighbor's tree is shading his spinach; an argument between the local priest and the school teacher who has been teaching that Joan of Arc "thought" she heard voices; the owner of a well quarrelling with the neighbor whose dog had breached that well seven years previously. The bickering villagers insist to one another that their lives would be much better if not for their neighbors. All are anticipating of the arrival of the baker: the village has been without bread since the previous baker died, and tensions are running higher than normal.
The Marquis enters with his three "nieces" and welcomes the new baker, Amiable Castagnet. Accurately named, he is a jolly, middle-aged fellow. With him is his young and beautiful wife Genevieve, whom the Marquis mistakes for the baker's daughter. The error is quickly addressed, but does not go unremarked by the townspeople. With Pompom, their cat, the couple is shown to their new home—with comments from the townsfolk, about the baker robbing the cradle, following in their wake.
In their new bakery, Amiable is clearly pleased with his new shop. To Genevieve, he sings "Merci, Madame", as enchanted with her as he is with his new surroundings. He is excited about the prospects of a prosperous life with a family. The villagers, too, are pleased with the return of daily bread to the small town.
The customers argue about their place in line in the small shop, eager to sample the wares of the new baker. Others gossip about the Marquis and his nieces; and Antoine, one of the villagers, asks Amiable how an old man like him was able to snare the beautiful Genevieve. "God was good to me," he replies, and Genevieve reminds the villagers that not only did her husband choose her, she chose him, too—and, she insists, she couldn't be happier. She smiles at the customers but, embarrassed by their prying, rushes inside in tears. She sings of the "Gifts of Love" she's received from men in her past: her passionate affair with a married man named Paul, and her gentler feelings for Amiable. Closing the door on her past, she resolves to be a good wife to the baker.
While picking up the Marquis' pastry order, his driver, Dominique, eyes Genevieve, mistaking her for the baker's daughter, just as the Marquis himself did earlier. Genevieve corrects the handsome chauffeur, but he cockily insists on addressing her as Mademoiselle. Genevieve insists, "Madame!", but he continues flirting with her, flustering her. Amiable returns after trying to find Pompom and reports that the cat has run off.
Some time later in the village square, Dominique again advances upon Genevieve. She rebuffs him, reminding him that she is happily married, but he resolves that he will be with his "Proud Lady".
The villagers gather again outside the café, engaged in their usual squabbles. The baker and his wife arrive and sit at a table near Antoine who continues to tease them about the difference in their ages. He implies that while the baker may be able to create the perfect croissant, his ability to create a child might have passed. Dominique comes to the couple's defense, hitting Antoine, but Genevieve is humiliated by the entire scene and exits in a huff.
That evening, we see three couples — including the baker and his wife — getting ready for bed. Dominique and his guitar-toting friend Philippe plot their evening in the town square, and as the three couples end their song, Dominique and Philippe start their "Serenade". The baker believes their song is a tribute offered in thanks for his baking, but Genevieve understands correctly that Dominique is singing to her. Amiable, ever the good man, sends Genevieve to give Dominique some unsold baguettes. She castigates her insistent suitor, but Dominique is undeterred. Despite her protests, Genevieve is unable to resist him, and they decide to meet an hour later and run off together.
Amiable calls down to Genevieve, and she replies that she'll return to bed in a minute. As he drops off to sleep, she contemplates her situation, singing the legend of the "Meadowlark". In the story, the bird decides to stay with the old king who adored her—and perishes of sadness, having missed her opportunity to fly away with the sun-god who had wooed her. Resisting the meadowlark's sad fate, Genevieve embarks for an unknown future with her "beautiful young man".
The neighbors are awakened to a fire in the bakery's oven, where the baker finds charred loaves. Usually Genevieve is the early riser of the household, and he begins to search for her, believing that she has gone in search for Pompom. A crowd begins to gather and the gossip begins at once, they know Amiable's search will yield neither cat nor wife.
The Marquis arrives and takes the baker aside, telling him that Genevieve had run off with his chauffeur in the Marquis' Peugeot. Philippe arrives and confirms the story, but Amiable chooses to believe that Genevieve has merely gone to visit her mother. As the gossip continues, the Marquis threatens to report his stolen car to the police, and to have the two lovers arrested. The gossiping townsfolk gleefully agree that the whole outrageous scandal is the "best thing to happen in this town in all my life!"
The second act opens as the first, with Denise reprising her "Chanson". The villagers keep an eye on the baker: they are relieved to see him begin a new batch of dough. The teacher and the priest argue again, the priest accusing the villagers of contaminating Genevieve with their immoral conduct, the teacher championing free will. The Marquis dismisses both explanations, insisting that Genevieve's behavior was simple human nature—that we are all captive to the joys of the flesh.
Amiable crosses to the café to inform the customers that the bread will be ready momentarily. The typically sober baker orders a cognac, and another, and sings tipsily that Genevieve will be home on an "Any-Day-Now Day": she has just gone to visit her mother. In an attempt to sober him up, the villagers follow him into the bakery, only to find it in a shambles. Amiable collapses amongst the spilled flour, dough hanging from the ceiling, and burnt loaves of bread.
The villagers realize that the town is in danger of being once again without a baker, and they blame the despondent baker's runaway wife for the sorry state of affairs. In the closed bakery, they try to cheer up Amiable and get him baking again by telling him that he's the luckiest man in the world: he's been spared the boredom and arguments of married life.
The Marquis enters, telling Amiable that all he needs to cheer up is some feminine companionship, even offering to loan his "nieces". The villagers ask the Marquis if the girls are really his nieces, to which he responds, "What is a niece but the daughter of a brother, and as I consider all men my brothers...." The girls surround the baker, flirting and caressing him. The priest enters and, shocked at the scene, begins feuding with the Marquis. The villagers join in the fray, and the baker throws them all out.
At a town meeting in the church, Amiable admits that he knows that Genevieve has run off. He offers the Marquis his life savings to deter him from hunting down the couple. He leaves the church, and the villagers—chastened by the aging man's selflessness even in the face of profound anguish—vow to work together to find Genevieve and persuade her to return to her husband.
Alone in the bakery, Amiable decides "If I Have to Live Alone", that he will do so with dignity.
The villagers are again at the café, and Antoine enters claiming that he has found the young couple at a hotel in a nearby town. They agree to form a search party, and the Marquis, the priest, and the teacher go after the outcasts to persuade the baker's wife to return home. Left behind, the women of the town comment ruefully on the romance that is missing from their own lives.
In a small hotel room, Genevieve and Dominique are together, but all is not well. She admits her passion for the young man, but wonders "Where Is the Warmth?" She gathers her things and leaves him asleep.
At a bus stop, the villagers encounter Genevieve on her way to Marseille. They beg her to return but, guilt-stricken and ashamed, she tells them that she can never go home again. They eventually convince her to return.
The villagers are asked to remain in their houses so as to not embarrass Genevieve when she arrives. Escorted by the priest and the Marquis, Genevieve walks through the empty street to the bakery and cautiously approaches her door.
She finds Amiable and attempts to tell him the truth, but he awkwardly refuses to listen, offering her dinner and insisting that she has returned from visiting her mother. Pompom arrives at the window, and Aimable angrily chastises the cat for running after "some tom that looked good in the moonlight." He unleashes all of his pent-up bitterness toward Genevieve on the small cat, but offers it a saucer of milk. He has faithfully refilled the milk each day, and when Amiable charges that the cat will run off yet again, a tearful Genevieve assures him that "she will not leave". Reconciled, the two begin to prepare the bread for the next day.