York Theatre uncorks a charming, intimate production of `The Baker's Wife'

The Baker's Wife Musical comedy by Joseph Stein (book), Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics). Based on ``La Femme du Boulanger,'' by Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono. Directed by Mr. Schwartz. In 1976, ``The Baker's Wife'' toured for several months but never reached Broadway. The Off Broadway York Theatre Company at East 90th Street has undertaken to show New Yorkers what they were missing with a sprightly production of Joseph Stein and Stephen Schwartz's version of a classic French film.

The local premi`ere justified the reclamation of ``The Baker's Wife'' by the enterprising Yorkists. While the show has been kept alive by cast-album sales and several regional-theater revivals, Messrs. Schwartz and Stein have been reworking the original and fashioning new material.

The end result is a charming entertainment which may be more suitable as an intimate, chamber-style musical than as a big Broadway extravaganza. The immemorial tale concerns middle-aged baker Aimable Castagner (Jack Weston) and his pretty wife, Genevieve (Joyce Leigh Bowden), who set up shop and household in a small village in southern France. All goes well until Genevieve runs off with a local Lothario (Kevin Gray). The baker starts burning the bread and then doesn't bake at all. How Genevieve is recovered and returned to the forgiving Aimable provides the inspiration for a serviceable libretto and a particularly lovely score.

The ``Chanson'' theme (delightfully sung by Judith Lander) sets the style for the adaption. Subsequent ear-catching compositions include ``Gifts of Love,'' ``Meadowlark,'' ``If I Have to Live Alone,'' and ``Where Is the Warmth?'' Besides responding to the needs of the love story, Mr. Schwartz has also provided the requisite incidental character and comic numbers.

The young people of the story are attractively acted and strongly sung by Miss Bowden and Mr. Gray. While Aimable's singing voice leaves something to be desired and he is not particularly Gallic, he is nevertheless unmistakably Jack Weston, which has its own compensations.

As usual with the York Theatre, the production has been well and artfully mounted. James Morgan has created a model, picture-book setting for the village and its environs. Credit also designers Holly Hynes (costumes) and Mary Jo Dondlinger (lighting).

Guitarist-singer-actor Paul O'Keefe and a quartet of instrumentalists led by Tim Weill sustain the production's festive air from overture to final bows.

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