As most people who have ever met me know, I am a bit of a musical fan. In fact, it turns out my superfan status was under threat as I had never seen Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical State Fair. However, thanks to the London Musical Theatre Orchestra and a visit to Cadogan Hall, I was able to remedy this terrible state of affairs.
The Frake family are all getting ready to go to the Iowa State Fair. Well, not only go but in the case of Melissa (Wendi Peters) and Abel (Clive Carter), they are hoping to win big at the fair with their mincemeat and pig – Blue Boy – respectively Also going to the fair are their children Wayne (Oliver Savile) and Margy (Celinde Schoenmaker) who are planning to have a rip-roaring time at the fair. Margy though has more on her mind than fun as she has promised childhood friend/sweetheart Harry (Matthew Pennington) that she will give him an answer to his marriage proposal once the fair has finished. As they prepare to leave, Abel bets his friend Dave Miller (Anthony Wise) five dollars that Blue Boy will win the prize and that the Frake family will all have a good time at the fair with no bad experiences. However, can anything be certain, and will the introduction of Jack the lad reporter Pat Gilbert (Richard Fleeshman) and cabaret performer Emily Arden (Emma Hatton) affect Margy and Wayne’s visit to the fair? And what will be the effect of the secret ingredient in Ma Frake’s mincemeat?
As I said in the introduction, I had never seen State Fair before and I’m really surprised as it is a really fabulous show. This one-off performance should hopefully stir the thoughts of producers to revive it on a West End stage. The book by Tom Briggs and Louis Mattioli, is more complicated than in the average musical with different strands running throughout as the Frake’s try to find their way through the three days of the fair. There is a plethora of musical styles in the score with some really great songs included – the first time I’ve ever heard a love song for a pig – and the inclusion of Emily Arden means the score can go away from traditional musical theatre styles without it sounding incongruous, for example, the song ‘The Way It Happens’ is pure cabaret rather than musical. This trick widens the appeal of the show considerably and sounds fantastic.
The London Musical Theatre Orchestra under Director Thom Sutherland and Musical Director/Conductor Freddie Tapner staged this production of State Fair as a concert piece and that worked really well with the highly talented cast of West End musical singers really delivering a superb rendition of the songs. They were all on stage throughout, either at lecterns signing their hearts out or sitting at the side. It was fun watching the cast as they all seemed to be having a really fun time, and there were a lot of smiles and head bobbing going on from cast members when they were sitting at the side. State Fair has quite a few moments devoted purely to the orchestra and the LMTO really delivered in spades, sounding absolutely fantastic throughout under the baton of the enthusiastic Freddie Tapner.
I have to say that the venue worked as well. This was my first visit to Cadogan Hall and the beautiful auditorium really added to the superb atmosphere of the evening and gave a true concert feel to the performance of this musical.
Review by Terry Eastham
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ever popular State Fair performed for the first time on the London stage as a symphonic concert by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra under award-winning director and Evening Standard Awards nominee Thom Southerland.
Wendi Peters (Melissa Frake) – best known for her role as Cilla Battersby Brown in Coronation Street, as regular character Cook Jenkins in BBC’s Hetty Feather, and with extensive stage credits, including, most recently Hatched ’n’ Dispatched (Park Theatre), Oh What a Lovely War! (National Tour) and White Christmas (Dominion Theatre). Richard Fleeshman (Pat) – appeared as Bobby Strong in Urinetown (St James Theatre), Sam in Ghost The Musical (West End and Broadway, WhatsOnStage Award for Best Actor in a Musical) and Warner in Legally Blonde The Musical (Savoy Theatre); Emma Hatton (Emily) Emma has just finished playing the lead role of Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked. She is also a celebrated jazz singer with a Number 1 EP; Oliver Savile Oliver is currently starring in the West End as Fiyero in Wicked; Celinde Schoenmaker – currently playing Cristine in The Phantom of the Opera London (West End) and recently Fantine in Les Miserables.
Other roles within State Fair played by the London Musical Theatre Chorus: Rebecca Ridout, Jessica Duncan, Charlie-Jade Jones, Rebecca Withers, Lizzie Wofford, Lizzie Jay, Elizabeth Bright, Ana Richardson, Tom Sterling, Chris McGuigan, Hywel Dowsell, Toby Hine, Oliver Stanley, Matthew Pennington, Richard James King.
Show: LMTO Presents Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair
Venue: Cadogan Hall, 5 Sloane Terrace, London, SW1X 9DQ
Date: 6th November 2016