I have to admit, while sitting through the opening scene and listening to “Our state fair is a great state fair. Don’t miss it, don’t even be late …” I started wondering how I would write a decent review, with boring lyrics sung over and over again. Couldn’t Rodgers and Hammerstein do better than this?
I hadn’t seen the movie and didn’t know the plot. But it wasn’t too long before the story got my attention – and the talent held it to the very end.
Sierra Repertory Theatre’s production is playing on Columbia’s Fallon House stage.
“State Fair” will win your heart. It’s an old-fashioned love story – love for the land, love for family and the traditions that hold them together, for hard work and reaping a harvest, love dreamed of, pursued, even love lost.
And love for a hog.
“Nothin’ as fine as Ioway swine … If he doesn’t win the prize, there will be pork roast!” Abel Frake announced before he and his family headed for the Iowa state fair. A moving cardboard truck with working headlights adds whimsy to the set, where a rope swing hangs from the barn rafters.
Frake is played by veteran Bay Area actor Gary S. Martinez. The spunky, white-haired gentleman oozes charm, offering wit and insight in generous doses to all.
His wife, Melissa, is played by Emily Gatesman. She was first an understudy and stepped in when Shelly Bort fell sick. But now I’ve heard she’s a permanent cast member. She suits the role beautifully.
The Frakes portray married love that has grown over the years in an era when traditional values were standard. They enjoy a fun song and dance number toward the end, proving they’ve still got rhythm and they’re still very much in love.
But back to the fair.
Boy, do these folks take their fair seriously.
There’s the competition among the local women for best recipes for canned pickles and mincemeat. Melissa is among the competitors longing to take home at least one blue ribbon.
And the hogs are judged, along with other livestock.
The Frakes’ two college-age offspring, Margy and Wayne, look forward to the trip, but for other reasons – they yearn for adventure or romance or both.
After all, the fair was, according to Margy, played by Hallie Brevetti, “the biggest story around.” At least, that’s what she told the big city, worldly-wise newspaper reporter Pat Gilbert, played by Jerry Lee.
A love-’em-and-leave-’em kind of guy, he and Margy agreed no strings. But soon found themselves attracted to each other on a deeper level.
As Gilbert’s journalist sidekick, Charlie, Amanda Goldrick filled the role with humor and finesse. She’s new to the SRT stage, but I hope to see her again.
Wayne is played by Taylor Simmons. He falls for sophisticated Emily Arden, a singer with a past – a challenging role played by Melissa Wolfklain. Older than his 21 years, she’s not the kind of girl his mom would want him bringing home. But there’s a lesson in it.
The 1945 film musical isn’t one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most popular productions. Even the reviews said it was “average” and “nice,” but not impressive.
Yet the Sierra Repertory Theatre manages to bring the quality up several notches. Director/choreographer Scot Viets accomplishes this with a multitalented cast, tight choreography, a beautiful set by Noble Dinse, plus the delightful mix of warmth, wisdom and a few plot twists.
This cast pulled together and worked hard to turn a simple tale into a memorable production. As always, the ensemble adds much to SRT productions.
And the children are fun to watch, especially Joey Fitzgerald, who fills his small roles to overflowing with natural talent and that endearing smile.
The Academy Award-winning score “It Might as Well Be Spring” is featured, as well as “Our State Fair” (of course), “That’s for Me,” “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” “Isn’t it Kind of Fun,” “Boys and Girls Like You and Me” and “All I Owe Ioway.”
When four grown men crooned “Sweet Hog o’ Mine,” those in the audience could hardly stop laughing.
Linda Hakanson of Mariposa loved the play, saying, “The details in the carnival painting and what they’re able to do on a small stage are all amazing. Really enjoyable!”
This musical reveals much about the heart and soul of the American people following the Second World War. It’s a great piece of summer entertainment for the entire family. And although some hearts get broken, a happy ending awaits.