An all-American musical comedy packed with songs, dance and summer fun, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “State Fair” plays at the Fallon House stage beginning Friday through Aug. 7.
Set in 1946 Iowa, “State Fair” is filled with simple pleasures and country charm. It celebrates the hardworking Frake family as they head for a summer weekend at the Iowa State Fair. They are ready to leave the farm and escape for a few days into the excitement and magic of the fair, where they can kick up their heels, compete for prizes, and maybe fall in love.
Originally written by Broadway masters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein as an Oscar-winning movie musical, “State Fair” wasn’t adapted and expanded for the stage until 50 years later. It was quickly embraced by audiences across the country. Reviewers have called it “smart, sharp and refreshing,” “exuberant and romantic” and “warm, outgoing and unapologetically old-fashioned.”
SRT audiences loved the show when it opened the season in 2000. It was SRT Artistic Director Scott Viet's first show at SRT (he choreographed), and now 16 years later, he's directing and choreographing.
"This is a perfect family show for summertime at the Fallon House," Viets said. “It’s a lesser known Rodgers and Hammerstein show that’s really a hidden gem. It’s a treat to bring our audiences a classic that they get to discover. It’s got some really beautiful songs, a lot of great production numbers, and it’s all about simple joys – taking pride in your home, your work, your land. These are traditions of the American heartland, and as hip as everyone tries to be, as fast-paced and electric, there are still these elements that appeal to us.”
While the show’s story is designed to be simple and old fashioned, it’s also packed with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s trademark touches — authentic characters, humor and romance, big dance numbers and a lush, wide-ranging score. The show has a mix of musical styles, with well-known favorites including “It Might As Well Be Spring,” “All I Owe Ioway,” “A Grant Night for Singing” and the title song.
Bay Area stage veteran Gary S. Martinez and Modesto’s Shelly Bort play the parents, Abel and Melissa Frake, both dead serious about bringing home blue ribbons for their champion hog and homemade mincemeat. Meanwhile, their two children are eager for some fun and excitement on the midway. Taylor Simmons is Wayne, who quickly falls head-over-heels for the beautiful singer Emily Arden (New York actress Melissa Wolfklain), while his older sister Margy (Hallie Brevetti, also from New York) finds herself attracted to Pat, a big city reporter with a sharp wit and worldly air. Sacramento artist Jerry Lee plays the role.
Rounding out the cast are ensemble members ranging in age from seven to 70, who fill a variety of roles from farm neighbors and fair goers to carnival barkers, fortune tellers and fair performers.
Sara Jones, SRT’s managing director, appeared as a farm wife in the 2000 production and has fond memories of the show.
“The music is just sensational,” Jones said. “One of my favorite Oscar Hammerstein lyrics is, ‘It’s a grand night for singing. The moon is flying high, and somewhere a bird who is bound he’ll be heard is throwing his heart at the sky.’ How gorgeous is that? The harmonies are stunning, too.
“The show just brings alive the romance of summer and the excitement of the fair. ‘All I Owe Ioway’ is a real rouser, and brought people to their feet at almost every performance. I also love the fact that there is romance for the younger and older generations in this piece. The kids get some great songs, but the parents also get to sing a lovely duet called, ‘Boys and Girls Like You and Me’ that was originally written for, but cut from, ‘Oklahoma.’ I’m so excited to share this great show with SRT audiences.”
SRT Musical Director Mark Seiver is working with Viets to create “State Fair’s” variety of musical numbers, which shift swiftly from big production numbers to beautiful romantic duets to soft shoe. Set design is by Noble Dinse, who is creating a 1940s atmosphere in the show’s many settings, from the Frake’s farm to the colorful midway to the livestock barns and dancehall stage.
“State Fair” opens Friday and runs through Aug. 7, with performances at 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturday and Sundays, and 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and either 2 p.m. or 7 p.m. Thursdays. Sierra Rep will offer free cotton candy opening weekend (while supplies last). A special “talk back” performance is June 30. Audience members are also invited to show their “State Fair” tickets to receive $1 off admission to the Mother Lode Fair in July.
Tickets range from $32 to $37, with senior, student and child discounts available. For tickets and information, visit www.sierrarep.org or call the Box Office at 532-5120.