ST. GEORGE — In difficult economic times many theaters hedge their bets on surefire, big name musicals. There has certainly been a dearth of lesser known plays in Southern Utah of late. So I was excited that Dixie State would take a risk on producing a show I had never heard of, The Baker’s Wife. After a little Wiki-searching I was even more excited. Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, a story based on a French film, and an almost-made-it-to-Broadway production touting Patti LuPoune gave me the promise of an altogether pleasing night at the theater.
Walking into the lovely Eccles Fine Arts Center I was presented with a charming French hamlet in Monet colors. Just the kind of place where you’d love to spend a quiet weekend. However, there was no peace to be found in this village. Introductions to the various characters were made, and the village began to feel something like Anatevka doused in butter and wine. The villagers are the same cads, shrews, shop keeps and families that live in every small town. They are people happy argue about the same issues day after day, year after year. Their main concern being a seven-week bread famine, owing to the unexpected demise of the local baker. They are anxiously anticipating the arrival of a new baker, but they are unaware of the trouble and change their savior’s beautiful young wife will bring to their quiet town.
There was much to be pleased about as the show progressed. The twenty-one member ensemble worked well together while remaining distinctive in their characterizations. Director Michael Harding found moments for each of them to shine. They especially excelled in moments with tight vocal arrangements and delightfully choreography. The production made excellent use of the lovely set with seamless transitions in and out of the bakery, and scrim effects allowing for action in the upper levels of the stage. Across the board Monica Hart’s costumes were also lovely. Especially those made those that were so carefully tailored for the leading lady.
The female voices in the show were all spot on, with especially strong perforances from the two leads, Jillian Durham (Denice the narrator) and Corinne Nelson (Genevieve, who is the baker’s titular wife). Sadly, the same can not be said for the men. Though he had wonderful presence and a powerful tenderness in his voice, the baker, Trey Paterson’s voice kept me from getting lost in his emotional journey—which was the most interesting in this show of dubious moral implications. His foil, the wife-stealing Dominique (Joseph Ahern), had the initial charm of a man capable of seducing a pretty young wife, but his constant dragging of air through his toothy smile so grated against his body mic that I found myself wishing that he would just throw the woman over his shoulder and get on with whisking her out of town.
Almost everyone on stage was mic-ed, and thus, the few that weren’t were left in an inaudible wasteland. Additionally, all those mics made for too many overly loud fight scenes. Bread or no bread, there seemed to be curse of overdramatic rage on the townsfolk. Major offenders were the local curate and a verbally abusive husband, both of whom seemed to know no better way to present their characters than with ear-splitting screams and barks. As the storyline unfolded I felt my interest wandering. Not surprisingly, as the script and songs floundered over-the-top moments became the norm. The actors give more than their all in compensation for the weakness of their characters. I became overwhelmed with the sense of watching a cartoon.
On the whole, this production made a serious effort to overcome a script with built in problems and a weak through-line. This assessment brings me to a bit of sad circular thinking: there is actually a very good reason that local theaters hedge their bets on surefire, big name musicals. Sad, but in such cases as The Baker’s Wife, true.