Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Review of The Baker's Wife

ICCT - Let’s get this out of the way, right away: I have never liked The Baker’s Wife. That’s not so much an indictment of Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein’s musical as it is a disclosure of my personal affinities, but I was also never a fan of The Great Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye either, so feel free to take my cultural insusceptibilities with a grain of salt. In truth, I recognize how much charming material there is for an audience to enjoy in this show, and I can see why it continues to be remounted in playhouses all across our great globe; there’s just something about the plot in general (and the female protagonist specifically) that always invokes stifled screams from my oft-dormant, ball-gagged Protestant sensibilities. That being said, I knew walking into the theatre that my review was not going to be about the book and lyrics, it was going to be about the performance.

And what a performance it was.

I don’t say this often, but everyone — literally everyone — who appears onstage in this piece does themselves (and ICCT) proud. From Denise’s (Theresa Wagner) opening song and disaffected verbal pugilism with her husband Claude (Bryan Lawler) to the prurient escapades of the Marquis (Al Kittrell) and his three very young, very attractive “nieces” (Angelique VanDorpe, Claire Barnhart, and Britteny Swensen) to the overbearing ideologues of educator (Scott Riley) and priest (Chuck Dufano), every single player plays their part admirably.

Kenneth Van Egdon delivers a powerful performance as the show’s main character, baker Aimable Castagnet. Van Egdon skillfully evinces a full gamut of emotions and is believably manic, rueful, enraged, resentful, and forgiving—and that’s just in the second act! Local ruby-throated warbler Rachel Brown plays his titular wife, the jezebel Geneviève. Ms. Brown warrants triple credit for (1) a portrayal that remains tolerable even when her character’s actions do not, (2) a truly fantastic vocal projection, and (3) not cracking up whilst singing the deliriously campy lyrics of her solo, Meadowlark.

The show’s non-thespian support was also capably apposite. Jeff Shields deserves recognition for costuming decisions that help delicately define TBW’s cast of characters before any of their words are given voice. Rich Riggleman’s stage design is, as usual, efficient and remarkably easy on the eyes. The always energetic, creative, and incorrigible Mark McCusker does the expected good job with choreography, particularly in the cast-spanning numbers of Bread and The World’s Luckiest Man. Ed Kottick and Ben Bentler do an excellent job of conducting the live musical accompaniment, to which I give dual gratitude to for being both visually and aurally unobtrusive throughout the entirety of the show despite their continuous on stage presence.

The Baker’s Wife
is the third Josh Sazon-directed show I’ve reviewed for this blog. I have gushed twice before, and I will do so again. Mr. Sazon often gives a timidly humble audience address before his shows, thanking a wide array of people and groups, and while he no doubt appreciates credit for his hard work, he always seems equally happy to deflect it to those less often recognized — an admirable quality. Still, my inner scientist can now officially state, placing faith in a small-but-representative sample size, the following hypothesis: Josh Sazon is Da Man. Hear me now, Blogosphere, if you are in the greater Iowa City/Coralville area and have a chance to try out for a Sazon-helmed anything, take it. If past results are at all indicative of future performance, you will be in a quality show, and you will not regret the experience.

As I stated at the top of this piece, I have never liked The Baker’s Wife as a show. This production? Yes. The musical on its own? Not so much. But to each his own.

To wit, on opening night, exactly two rows ahead and four seats to the right of me, sat a young boy of perhaps eight years. He could not withdraw his gaze from the stage, he impatiently waited for intermission to conclude, and he eagerly praised the receiving line with a gleefully puerile vocabulary consisting of ‘really good’ and ‘really awesome’. In my book, any production able to introduce a child to the wonderful world of musical theatre and keep him excited about all the way back to the car is a qualified success.

--Andrew R. Juhl

Andrew R. Juhl is an area author and director. He has previously worked with the City Circle Acting Company of Coralville and Rage Theatrics.

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