MANITOWANING – The Burns Wharf Theatre Players’ production of ‘The Baker’s Wife’ marks the theatre company’s first foray out of the Gilbert and Sullivan portfolio in its 10 year history, but unfamiliar territory notwithstanding, the company delivered an entertaining tour de force in its opening night performance. ‘The Baker’s Wife’ is a musical comedy, so the troupe has not strayed all that far from its roots, but it is clear from their performance that the cast and crew have taken the show into their hearts.
“Although we love G and S (Gilbert and Sullivan), it was definitely time to explore new territory,” said producer Peter Baumgarten, who also played the role of the aptly named Aimable the baker. “After doing a bit of searching for possible shows, our director Patrick Therrien fell in love with ‘The Baker’s Wife’.”
Not to give too much of the plot away, the play is set in a small provincial village in 1930s France. The sudden loss of the village baker has left the inhabitants bereft and mourning their lack of fresh bread, but the soon-to-arrive new baker and his much younger wife is anticipated with hope and excitement. Add in the complication of the attentions of a young Lothario and some inspired lyrics and hilarity leavened with pathos soon emerges from the oven.
With a cast of 20 and a supporting cast and crew of 11 (including an outstanding cameo by the oh-so-laid-back Felix the Cat) the onstage production was ably buttressed by a further technical and admin team of more than 30.
The three lead characters included Mr. Baumgarten as Aimable the baker, Rachel Gulyas as his much younger wife Genevieve and Isaac Gosse as the young Lothario Dominique.
Mr. Baumgarten’s voice provided a perfect tremolo as his musical performances complemented his character, but it was his masterful facility of expression and body language that truly brought the house down—particularly under the ministrations of the Marquis’ “loaned” nieces.
The vulnerability Ms. Gulyas’s portrayed as Genevieve played counterpoint to the attentive joy of her husband and the brash seductive vitality (and agility) of Mr. Gosse’s Dominique.
Nearly stealing the show accolades must be accorded to Patrick O’Leary’s Marquis, whose over the top performance captured the role whole, Von Clayton’s Antoine as the antithesis of the politically correct observer, and the paired duos of Mark Kuntsi’s Barnaby with Patrick Therrien’s Claude and Carole LaBelle’s Domergue and Allison MacNeil’s Pierre.
In fact, the performances of all of the cast were outstanding, a worthy projection of the passion and commitment these thespians put into their work.
A word must also be said about the set design, which was innovative and perfectly meshed with the two main settings of the bakery and the village square.
Although the setting of the action lies 80-odd years in the past, the messages of the piece still have resonance today in the comparison between the rush (and indiscretion) of youthful passion and the stalwart love characterized by empathy and compassion that stands the test of time in long-term relationships.
‘The Baker’s Wife’ will take to the stage for evening performances at 7:30 pm on May 24, 25, 30, 31 and June 1, with matinees on May 27 and June 2 at 2 pm. All performances are at Knox United Church in Manitowaning.