In 1976, 28-year-old Stephen Schwartz seemed to be the most successful Broadway songwriter of his generation, with three musicals playing in New York simultaneously: Godspell (which transferred to Broadway following a lengthy off-Broadway run during the year), Pippin, and The Magic Show. Schwartz's next musical was thus highly anticipated. It was The Baker's Wife, based on the French novel La Femme du Boulanger by Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono, and the classic 1938 film directed by Pagnol, about a romantic triangle involving a baker, his wife, and a shepherd. Originally, the production starred Topol (known for the London and film versions of Fiddler on the Roof), but he was eventually replaced, surprisingly, by the character actor Paul Sorvino, a newcomer to musical theater. Opposite him was up-and-coming Juilliard-trained actress/singer Patti LuPone, while Kurt Peterson ably played the shepherd. The show opened its pre-Broadway tour in Los Angeles on May 11, 1976, but something went wrong on the way to New York, and The Baker's Wife never got there, closing in Washington, D.C. A year later, Schwartz was able to find backers to record this studio cast album of the score, featuring the principal performers from the lost production. The music has the warm, melodic pop sound familiar from Schwartz's previous musicals. The first revelation is Sorvino, who actually trained for 18 years to be an opera singer before making his career in straight plays and films. He is a wonderful singer, easily able to handle the rangy songs Schwartz has given him. The second revelation is LuPone, making her recording debut, who turns out to be another wonderful singer. The standout song is her explanation of why she's running away from her husband, "Meadowlark," but the score is as good as it is well sung, and this is one of those cases in which an album based on a failed show poses the question of what could have gone wrong, since it obviously wasn't the music.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|The Baker's Wife, musical|