Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis

Act One

A few tables are occupied outside of a small cafe in a French village. It's early autumn in the mid-1930s. Denise, the proprietor's wife, while tending to her chores and serving customers, thinks about her quiet life, living from day to day when nothing really changes, and yet... sometimes... unexpectedly... something can happen to make life quite different, quite new ("Chanson").

Several people stop at the cafe. Fragments of conversations are heard from table to table: an argument here between the school teacher and the local priest, a complaint there from a gardener to a neighbor whose tree is shading his spinach patch and, among all, is the anticipation of the arrival of the new baker to replace the one who just died ("If It Weren't for You").

The Marquis, accompanied by his three "nieces," welcomes the baker, Aimable Castagnet. This amiable, accurately named fellow is a jolly, middle-aged man. With the baker is the young and lovely Genevieve, whom the Marquis mistakes for the baker's daughter. The error is quickly addressed. After the couple leaves the cafe to move into their new home with their cat Pompom, the cafe customers exchange a few remarks about the baker "robbing the cradle."

In the bakery, Aimable is quite pleased with their new surroundings and expresses his delight ("Merci, Madame"). He is obviously enchanted with his young wife and delighted at the thought of the future in their little shop.

The villagers from the cafe are now customers at the bakery and can't help but sing the praises of the "Bread."

In their eagerness to sample the delicious-smelling bakery products, customers argue about their places in line. Others gossip about the Marquis and his "nieces," and Antoine, one of the villagers, brazenly asks the baker how an old fellow like him won such a beautiful young bride. Aimable replies, "God was good to me." Genevieve chimes in that, not only did her husband choose her, she chose him and is happy with her choice. But, while she smiles at the customers, she rushes inside the bakery in tears.

Alone, Genevieve reveals fragments of her past: her sensuous love affair with Paul, a married man, and contemplates the gentle love that she shares now with her baker husband. She's determined to make the best of it, to be a good wife and to close the door on her past ("Gifts of Love").

The Marquis's driver, Dominique, comes to the shop to pick up the Marquis's pastry order. He eyes Genevieve and also mistakes her for the baker's daughter, rather than his wife. She corrects him, and he addresses her as mademoiselle. "Madame!" she insists. He continues flirting, radiating charm. She is flustered. Aimable returns after trying to find Pompom and sadly reports that the cat has run off.

A few weeks later, in the village square, Genevieve encounters Dominique again. She tries to ignore his advances, reminding him that she's a happily married woman. He predicts that they are destined for one another, and that she will be his someday ("Proud Lady").

Outside of the cafe, the villagers gather again, still arguing, still gossiping, still teasing one another. The baker and his wife arrive and sit at a table as Antoine teases them about the difference in their ages, inferring that Aimable may be able to produce a splendid croissant, but can he produce offspring? Dominique barges in and comes to the couple's defense, socking Antoine for the insulting remark. Genevieve is irritated by Dominique's interference and leaves. Only the men of the town are left at the cafe and they place all of the blame on the fairer sex for a man's quarreling and brawling nature ("Look for the Woman").

Later that evening, we see several couples (the baker and his wife, as well as the cafe owner and his wife) as they prepare for bed. In the town square is Dominique with his pal, Philippe. Dominique sings the praises of the baker for bringing his "treasure" to their town. Aimable is flattered by the praise, failing to understand that the "treasure" to which Dominique is referring is the baker's wife, not the baker's bread ("Serenade").

In an effort to get rid of him, Genevieve goes into the shop and offers Dominique some pastries, but he wants more than sweets. He persists, holding her, kissing her. She warns him that Aimable will hear, but an unheeding Dominique declares his passion for her. She protests but is swept away by his words and her feelings. She cannot resist him, and they plan to meet in an hour to run off somewhere together.

A sleepy Aimable calls down to Genevieve. She replies, "In a minute," as he drops off to sleep. Alone, she contemplates her situation and realizes that she has no choice but to fly away with her "beautiful young man" ("Meadowlark").

A fire in the bakery's oven awakens the neighbors. The baker finds charred loaves. Ordinarily, Genevieve is the early riser in the household. Aimable calls for her and hurries off in search, thinking that she has gone off again to look for their cat, Pompom. A little crowd gathers, and the gossip begins again, this time about the charred bread and the missing wife.

Aimable returns empty-handed. No cat. No wife. The villagers continue their whispering as he enters his bakery in search of a note, at least, but there is none ("Buzz-a-Buzz"). The Marquis arrives and, away from the group, tells Aimable that Genevieve has run off with his chauffeur in the Marquis's automobile. Philippe, the driver's pal, confirms the story, but Aimable refuses to accept the explanation. The villagers beg Philippe to dish the dirt, and the Marquis threatens to go to the police to report the theft of his elegant Peugeot. Dominique will be arrested and Genevieve as well. Outside of the bakery, the gossip continues, the townsfolk relishing outrageous tales of jealousy, lust and revenge — all of the wonderful things that make life worth living in France.

Act Two

At the cafe, the villagers keep an eye on the baker across the way and are relieved to see him preparing a new batch of dough. They tease one another about wives being unfaithful creatures ("If It Wasn't for You – Reprise").

Aimable crosses to the cafe to announce that the bread will be ready shortly. He, who never drinks, orders a cognac... and another and, in a tipsy state, offers a toast to his missing wife, whom he insists is only away to visit her mother ("Any-Day-Now Day"). The baker becomes more and more inebriated. The villagers try to sober him up and follow him back to the bakery, which they find in a terrible state: flour is spilled everywhere; dough hangs from the ceiling, like stalactites in a cave; loaves of bread are burned and as heavy as stones. Aimable collapses in the rubble.

The bakery is closed. The villagers believe that the town is cursed and blame the baker's wife for the disaster that has struck. In an effort to cheer up the baker and put him back to his chores, they urge him to consider the advantages of his being free of marital blisters, pointing out that he's a fortunate man who has been spared the quarrels and boredom of married life ("Luckiest Man in the World").

The Marquis comes in to offer his two cents, suggesting that the baker needs "Feminine Companionship" and offers to "loan" him his nieces. The priest is shocked at what he sees: the nieces flirting with, surrounding, and fondling the baker. The priest rails against the conduct. The Marquis feuds with the priest. The villagers chime in to the fray. Losing control, Aimable throws all of them out of his shop.

A town meeting in the church is called. Arguments erupt among the villagers. Aimable joins the congregation and admits to everyone that he knew Genevieve had run off — and not to see her mother. He turns over his life savings to the Marquis to avoid having the young lovers hunted down and imprisoned. After he leaves the church, members of the community decide to track down the couple, nonetheless.

Alone inside the bakery, Aimable faces his future alone ("If I Have to Live Alone").

At a meeting of the villagers at the cafe, Antoine bursts in, claiming to have found the couple in a small hotel in a nearby town. The villagers swiftly form a search party, a triad made up of the Marquis, the priest and the teacher, to go after the outcasts and urge the baker's wife to return home. The women of the village comment bitterly on the realities that one confronts in a relationship ("Romance – Reprise").

In a small hotel room, Genevieve and Dominique are together, but disenchanted with one another. While she admits to her passion for her handsome young lover, she wonders "Where Is the Warmth?" He is asleep on the bed as she gathers her few things and leaves him there.

The search party encounters Genevieve at a bus stop on her way to Marseilles. They implore her to return to the village. She answers that she can never go home again. The three men convince the pretty outcast to return because all sins are forgivable.

In anticipation of her arrival, the villagers are asked to return to their homes so as not to embarrass Genevieve when she arrives. The only hold-out is Therese, who refuses to withdraw, but the teacher convinces her with a passionate kiss, which she interprets as a proposal of marriage. She runs off, saying that she'll expect him the next morning for the formal announcement.

Escorted by the priest and the Marquis, Genevieve walks through the empty street to the bakery and approaches the door hesitantly.

It is a tense and awkward moment as Genevieve and Aimable confront one another. She tries to tell him the truth, but he refuses to accept any story other than that she ran off to visit her mother. He offers her his dinner. Just then, they hear their Pompom at the window. Aimable bitterly scolds the wicked alley cat for running off after some hot, young tom and then offers it a saucer of milk. Together, Aimable and Genevieve prepare to start tomorrow's bread and light the oven ("Chanson – Reprise"). Curtain.