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Stage Taylor
In association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre

The European Premiere

 Rodgers and Hammerstein’s

State Fair

The Company of State Fair at the Finborough

Photo by Tara Marricdale


Music by Richard Rodgers

Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Book by Tom Briggs and Louis Mattioli

Based on the novel by Phil Stong and the screenplay by Oscar Hammerstein II

Presented by Arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited

on behalf of R & H Theatricals of New York


Directed by Thom Southerland

Musical Direction by Magnus Gillijam

Choregraphy by Sally Brooks


Finborough Theatre

4 - 29 August 2009







A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


State Fair (1945), the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical score especially composed for a big screen movie, springs to brash, bustling life within the tiny performance space of the Finborough Theatre. The Finborough is well known and often lauded for resurrecting buried theatrical treasures and despite its small scale, or maybe because of it, this cracking production offers plenty of dust shedding sparkle. For modest fringe theatre prices, you’re getting grand musical theatre on a pared down, close up scale that will literally make you feel as though you’re part of the action.

The Frake children, Margy and Wayne, both of college and/or marriageable age, are longing for adventure. It’s autumn and the annual Iowa State Fair has just come to town. The fair is just about the most exciting thing that ever happens in those parts, apart from love.

Considering the fact that I’ve never seen either of the film versions of State Fair (1945 or 1962) and wasn’t even aware of the 1996 Broadway version, starring former Annie star, Andrea McArdle, a surprising number of this show’s songs were recognisable to me: ‘It Might As Well Be Spring, ‘It’s a Grand Night for Singing’, ‘Our State Fair’ and others. In addition, the calibre of much of the performing in this production is equal to, if not greater than that in many West End musicals, which came as a delightful and welcome surprise.

I’m certainly no stranger to Rodgers and Hammerstein, whose scores for hit Broadway shows like Oklahoma (1943), Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959), regularly wafted around me in my childhood, thanks to my mother’s passion for musicals, her recordings of which also included several ‘Best of’ collections drawn from the masters which, no doubt, included hum-worthy gems from State Fair. Revivals of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals often seem more like events than theatre, so it would seem fitting if the Finborough’s more pared down version of the show, adapted, perhaps, from filmic versions, oozed the sentimentality and colouring of an old photo album. Instead, this fast-moving production fairly bursts with inventiveness, right down to its seemingly unnoticeable touches such as big bunches of red, white and blue balloons which, tethered to chairs at one end of the performance space form frames for fairground scenes, much in the same way that a simple lighted archway suggests a teeming midway beyond. The ensemble dance numbers form similar illusions, with a few pairs of dancers filling the frame, swishing their skirts or tipping their hats as though they were giving their all for the camera alongside dozens of other couples. It is only in more homey scenes that one gets a sense of drama here, but even then, it is drama poised for musical action. For each scene appropriately frames a song and, given the enthusiastic way they are performed by the show’s talented cast, the show’s jewels really sparkle. Absent is the West End’s ready arsenal of smoke and mirrors which has been known to veil sub-standard celebrity performances. There is nowhere to hide in a small space like the Finborough; so their comparatively tiny, but all-revealing spotlight has a way of shining down on talent and really making it beam out at the audience!

One such example of shimmering starlight occurs during the solo moments of the show’s leading lady, Laura Main. As newly flowered Margy, experienced songstress Main adds warmth and tenderness to her performance of the show’s Oscar winning ballad ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’ as well as to her duet with relative newcomer David Botham as roving reporter Pat Gilbert on ‘Isn’t It Kind of Fun?’. Main’s naturalness is refreshing and elevates her character, Margy into credibility, far above the show’s lesser, but nonetheless necessary caricatures. Margy’s big lug brother, Wayne, who gamely wears a heart of gold on his sleeve, is nicely rendered by Sion Lloyd, who also offers some lovely moments via his fine voice, both on solos and with Kellie Shirley as Emily Arden, the visiting carnival chanteuse who has no doubt, dazzled many an unseasoned farm boy in the course of her travels. All of the songs these players perform are rendered with great sensitivity and charm.

Margy and Wayne’s Mother, Melissa seemed like an old friend, small wonder, since we recently enjoyed Susan Travers’ stand-out portrayal of a stop them in their tracks Duchess in the Landor Theatre’s production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Philip Rham is similarly animated and go get um as the beared, feisty Father of this family and watching his and Ms. Travers lively interactions with one other is an especially enjoyable experience. One of the bonuses of performing in a musical in a place like the Finborough has to be the fact that you’ll really get to show what you can do, whether you’re playing a supporting role, or dancing and singing in the chorus, so hats off to Gareth Nash as Harry, Sarah Waddell as Charlie, Anthony Wise as Mr Miller/Judge Heppenstahl, Robert Rees as Gus and last but not least, Robine Landi, Martin McCarthy, Helen Phillips and Clare Reilly for making their four person ‘Ensemble’ seem like so much more.

The score of State Fair offers a wide range of musical numbers from stunning ballads and duets, (both romantic and wryly comic) to tightly tuned barbershop harmony, making this show a songsters delight. Mega applause to Director Thom Southerland, Musical Director Magnus Gilljam, Choreographer Sally Brooks and all those concerned with the show’s staging, from its resourcefully imaginative Designer Wai Yin Kwok, Costume Designer Martha Palmer (inappropriate clothing here could ruin the show’s feeling of authenticity) to Lighting Designer Simeon Miller who does an especially fine job of emulating stark carnival lighting masquerading as Broadway for Ms. Arden and the Ensemble’s show within a show.

Whether you’re a fan of State Fairs or not, be sure you head out to the Finborough by August 29th to hopefully, catch a returned ticket for this spirited production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein version. Otherwise, you’ll risk missing out one of those rare events which is guaranteed to leave you humming and, smiling.




State Fair is now Sold Out for the length of its run!
For possible returns please pick up a numbered ticket in the bar two hours before the performance. Take tickets to the box office upstairs 5 minutes before show-time, where returns, if any, will be strictly allocated according to numbered ticket order. Matinees offer the best chance of returns. However, there is no guarantee that there will ever be any!

Tues – Sat 7:30 pm and Sat. 3pm

Tickets £13. £9. Concs. Sat evening all tickets £13.

2 hours with one interval

Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
SW10 8ED





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