Tasty slice of musical comedy

FELIXSTOWE Musical Theatre is bucking stage superstition, including a theatrical feline in the cast of its latest show.

Real life Imperial Brand Premier Cream Burmese Parananza Maxmillian – known at home as Max – has some pivotal moments in musical comedy The Baker’s Wife.

Set in a small village in Provence, France, in 1935, the bickering residents have at last found peace and contentment in the heavenly bread of the newly arrived baker and his attractive young wife - whom they first mistake for his daughter given the massive age gap.

When she is lured away by the attentions of a handsome young gigolo, the middle-aged baker loses all zest for life and baking, throwing the community into chaos.

There are unhappy spouses, morality watchdogs, quarrelling neighbours and others who are all affected in one way or another by the events in the bakery. Wanting to restore harmony, the villagers campaign to reunite the couple.

“I’ll be honest, I’ve got one small concern with the cat. There was an offer to make a kind of, like, robotic one but you just can’t recreate that and it would’ve looked wrong,” says director David Crane, who’s been upstaged by a cat before.

He shared the opening scene of Half a Sixpence with one years ago, carrying it on to stage which was great. However...

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“The audience loved it, but the whole scene was wasted because every time I turned they were like ‘aaah’ and started focusing on the cat.

“My only worry is the last scene of our show is very sensitive. It’s beautiful, so well written and very dramatic - the cat really can’t afford to run off stage,” David says.

“The wife walks in and they couple have a very nonchalant conversation. The cat walks in and the baker has a right go at the cat, calling it a hussey. Obviously he’s referring to the wife, so it’s a very cleverly written scene.”

As Max, from Sudbury, appears very early on David hopes the audience will be used to him. And – playing a she – he is thankfully used to appearing on stage and being watched. Plus he’s already met the cast and been given a tour of the stage.

“I’m directing the cat, making sure it’s learnt its lines,” David laughs. “It’s meant to come down and stay next to a saucer of milk in the final scene - we’ll have to see what happens and might have to think of another plan.”

Written by Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof) and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked and Godspell) The Baker’s Wife has a chorus made up of fully fleshed-out characters, each with a small subplot.

With plenty of old world charm, it’s a bittersweet, clever and slightly offbeat fable of life, love and bread.

“It’s one of those stories where you think it’ll just be charming and nice, but it’s actually very, very funny; some of the village characters have got some wonderful lines. The actors are having a great time and really having fun with it,” says David.

With so many characters in the village there are parts for nearly everyone with more than 30 people in the cast. FMT started rehearsals earlier in the year and he even has a minor role.

“I don’t like to be when I direct, it’s very hard as you can’t be in two places at once but it’s one song and about four lines so I can cope with that,” he laughs.

“Rehearsals are going very well. It’s been a very difficult show to put on.

“You listen and look at it and think ‘oh this is nice and easy’ and it’s actually not.

“We’ve got a lot of scenes where in the middle of a musical number we go from the cafe to inside the bakery to outside, so staging it has been a little bit of a challenge. But we’re on track and the show’s finished, we’ve got a little time now to fine tune which is quite a nice position to be in.”

The music has proved another challenge.

“It’s quite complex. It’s not what you call an A-list standard show, the cast have pretty much had to learn it from scratch,” David adds.

There was a Broadway producton sometime in the 80s but it got shelved. Trevor Nunn became intrigued after hearing the song Meadowlark so many times in auditions.

Together with writer Steven Shwartz they virtually re-wrote the show and it premiered in this country at The Wolsey.

It had Alun Armstrong in the lead and spent a brief spell in the West End. For some reason it didn’t work but has has developed a cult following.

“The music is just gorgeous, the opening number’s a typical French laid-back song and goes into another which kind of sounds like an old English folk song. There’s another which is a good, old-fashioned musical theatre ballad and one with a Tango feel to it so it’s very varied - somthing for everyone.”

Then there’s there’s some football tournament putting a possible spanner in the works.

“The show runs from June 9-12 and the last day is England’s first World Cup game - so we’re up against it in that there might not be many people going out that night,” he grimmaces.

FMT began in 1966 as an evening class under the auspices of the Adult Education Centre, rehearsing in what is now Orwell High school.

Its first production – Salad Days- there was so successful it was decided to put the next – Free as Air- on at the Spa Pavilion.

Going independent, rehearsals have been staged at various venues in the town but the company has settled for many years now in the Welcome Hall, Trimley St Mary and are affiliated to N.O.D.A ( National Operatic and Dramatic Association).

To start with, it only did one major musical per year and had a road show which travelled round the nearby villages, but in 1971 members decided on two productions a year at the Spa. In the early 90s they started their format of a musical in summer and a pantomime in the winter.

FMT has won many awards for performance, characterisation and technical ability and in 2009 won the NODA award for the best pantomime in the Eastern region with Beauty and the Beast, directed by Sonya Taylor.

The Baker’s Wife, presented by FMT, runs at the Spa Pavilion, Felixstowe, from June 9-12.

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