State Fair

Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, book by Tom Briggs and Louis Mattioli based on the novel by Phil Stong and the screenplay by Oscar Hammerstein
Finborough Theatre

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All the fun of the fair can currently be seen at the Finborough Theatre ...

State Fair is the third collaboration of musical theatre masters Rodgers and Hammerstein: in their cannon it comes after the landmark Oklahoma! and Carousel (and before the likes of South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music).

Originally created for film State Fair was not adapted for the stage until the 1990s when songs written by the duo for other shows were added - and they were much needed since the 1945 movie had only a spare handful of numbers.

Whilst State Fair doesn't have a "You'll Never Walk Alone" or a "Shall we Dance", it does have Academy Award-winning "It Might As Well Be Spring" and more besides, most particularly "It's a Grand Night for Singing" and "All I Owe Ioway" which joyously bookend the interval.

There is no doubt that at the Finborough it is a big show in a little space and on a hot summer's evening what it doesn't have is "Plen'y of air and plen'y of room", but there is plenty of "Yeeow! Ayipioeeay!" and much credit for this has to go to director Thom Southerland and choreographer Sally Brooks. A cast of fourteen dancing a hoedown in limited space is self-evidently a challenge and to pull it off without compromising quality and energy is some achievement.

The story of State Fair couldn't be much simpler. The humble Frake family leave their farm for a visit to the annual Iowa State Fair, their hopes high for winning rosettes - Mother for her homemade preserves and Father for his would-be prize boar. For their son Wayne and daughter Margy, however, love and romance are to be found at the fairground.

Siôn Lloyd and Laura Main as the young Frakes give two of the central performances - both sing beautifully. He has a strapping appearance, a strong voice and sensitive delivery, whilst Main captures the yearning behind "It Might as Well as Be Spring" and balances the determination and aching of "Next Time It Happens".

Margy has two suitors - at home there is predictable, slightly nerdy Harry played engagingly by Gareth Nash and at the fair is the worldly-wise Pat portrayed with suitable self-assurance by David Botham.

Hometown girl Isabelle is waiting for Wayne's return to the farm but amongst the attractions at the fair he finds singer Emily Arden. Glamorous, blond and pretty, you can see how she turns Wayne's head though Kellie Shirley could make her more mettlesome.

Philip Rham gives a good performance as boar-besotted head of the Frake family, Abel, holding things together and keeping up the pace and singing strength when it might otherwise wonder.

The hard-working pianist, Magnus Gilljam, never leaves his post and is accompanied from time to time on a variety of instruments by members of the cast. In spite of some voices being rather under-powered, as musical director Gilljam gets some terrific sounds from the cast and - corny though it may be to say it - it's a grand night for singing!

"State Fair" plays until Saturday 29 August 2009 - performances on Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm with Sunday matinées at 3.00pm and after 15 August Saturday matinées also at 3.00pm. Performance length is approximately 2½ hours with one interval.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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