A bright-red ribbon to Stages St. Louis for mounting a fine production of the slight but enjoyable State Fair, Rodgers and Hammerstein's follow-up to Oklahoma!. What, you didn't know Oklahoma! had a sequel? Well, thank Darryl F. Zanuck and 20th Century Fox, who noted the enormous success of this rural masterpiece on Broadway and decided to dust off a reel from the inventory (1932's State Fair, starring Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor). Add a few numbers and you've got a musical, and R&H had no trouble dashing off a quickie, though under their own conditions. As Richard Rodgers wrote in his memoir, Musical Stages: "We had no intention of spending an extended length of time in Hollywood and we insisted that we be allowed to write the songs in the East." State Fair doesn't seem so much disjointed as Hollywoodized, yet R&H provided tender numbers, notably "It Might as Well Be Spring."
Here, we follow the Frake family to the Iowa State Fair. Father Abel is bringing a behemoth porker for judging, mother Melissa enters pickles and mincemeat (much is made of the "secret ingredient," brandy), and youthful offspring Wayne and Margy have only their hearts on offer. Will the kids leave their hometown sweeties for the city slickers they'll meet at the fair?
State Fair was intended for the screen, and it shows -- scenes end with blackout wisecracks, few of which the Stages company timed precisely right (a touch too rushed, mostly). And what to make of the most tender love song in the show, "More Than Just a Friend," which Abel and pals sing to the cochon? For the most part, the cast was commendable, and Michael Hamilton's direction snappy. As Abel, Rich Pisarkiewicz possesses a liquid, limpid croon that seems historically apropos. Zoe Vonder Haar, as his wife, shares warmth, if not pipes. Though Janine Burmeister and Jeremy Koch as the kids seem a touch, well, mature for these ingenuous roles -- and Burmeister is burdened with a lampshade of a wig -- they've got plenty of zip as well.
Dana Lewis' choreography depends a touch too much on grin-in-place-and-shuffle, but it's a small stage, and it's not like this is, well, Oklahoma!
State Fair continues through July 2.
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