The Column Best in DFW Theater 2016

 

 

 

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STATE FAIR STATE FAIR
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein ll
Book by Tom Briggs and Louis Mattioli; and based on the screenplay by Oscar Hammerstein ll and the novel by Phil Strong

Stolen Shakespeare Guild

Directors – Jason & Lauren Morgan
Music Director – Lauren Morgan
Choreographer – Karen Matheny
Stage Manager – Stefanie Glenn
Asst. Director – Katreeva Phillips
Costume Designer – Lauren Morgan
Master Carpenter – Keith Glenn
Set Designers –Lauren & Jason Morgan
Props Designers- Jennifer Stewart and Jean Jeske
Light Designer – Bryan Douglas
Costume Crew – Lauren Morgan, Thenia Haynie, Julie Molina, and Peggy Jobe
Set Building Crew - Keith Glenn, Brad Felty, Jason Morgan, Sean Malloy, Audrey Potkotter, Sam Walker, Kierstin Curtis, Lauren Morgan, Bryan Douglas, Jennifer Steward, Bart Stewart, and Elena Weber

CAST
John Wilkerson* as Abel Frake
Jenny Tucker as Melissa Frake
Jessica Taylor as Margy Frake
Shafer Bennett Wilkerson as Pat Gilbert
Alexandra Cassens as Emily Arden
Branden Loera as Wayne Frake
Emmie Kivell as Fairtone
Samantha Snow as Fairtone
Angela Germany as Fairtone
Nicole Carrano as Fairtone
Kelly Garlans as Hoop-la-barker
Martin Antonio Guerra West as Lem
Jonathan Speegle as Hank
Gary Payne as Clay
Melissa Rosenberg as Eleanor
Sean Malloy as Harry
Robin Attaway as Mrs. Metcalf
Nancy Lamb as Judge Heppenstahl
Audrey Pottkotter as Violet
Jamall Houston as Charlie
Zak Loera as Gus
Angela Destro as Ensemble
Kallie Corbin as Ensemble
Klarice P McCarron as Ensemble
Delmar H. Dolbier as Dave Miller & The Chief of Police
Rachel Clo as Ensemble
Katherin Paiva as Ensemble

STATE FAIRSTATE FAIRSTATE FAIR






Reviewed Performance 7/9/2016

Reviewed by LK Fletcher, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The Stolen Shakespeare Guild presents STATE FAIR as part of its summer musical season. Set against the colorful backdrop of an American heartland tradition, STATE FAIR travels with the Frake family as they leave behind the routine of the farm for three days of adventure at the annual Iowa State Fair. Mom and Pop have their hearts set on blue ribbons while their daughter and son find romance and heartbreak on the midway. Set to the magical strains of an Academy Award-winning score and augmented by other titles from the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook, STATE FAIR is the kind of warm-hearted family entertainment only Rodgers & Hammerstein could deliver!

“It’s A Grand Night For Singing” at the Stolen Shakespeare Guild production of STATE FAIR. All though Rogers and Hammerstein are undisputable titans in the musical theater genre. (Oklahoma!, The King and I, South Pacific, Carousel, Flower Drum Song, Cinderella, Allegro, Pipe Dream, Me and Juliet, The Sound of Music) their movie musical State Fair is not their greatest achievement. State Fair is unique to the Rogers and Hammerstein collection in that is has had lived many lives, has many stories to tell, and many songs to sing. It is fortunate for DFW audiences that we can now experience what has been a work in progress since 1945 where the reviews read "Average," from the New York Times in 1945 and "A long way from 'Oklahoma! '," in the New Yorker. The SSG Production was a lovely performance and most especially, it was a “Grand Night For Singing”.

If you are musical theater or music history buff you can follow the genealogy of STATE FAIR here- otherwise skip ahead. 

GENEALOGY

The genealogy of State Fair began in 1945 as an American musical film directed as an adaptation of the 1933 film of the same name, with original music by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The film was remade in 1962, that time starring Pat Boone and Ann-Margret. State Fair was the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written directly for film. The movie introduced such popular songs as "It's A Grand Night For Singing" and "It Might as Well Be Spring", which won the Academy Award for Best Song. It was considered to be a financially and critically unsuccessful film. Richard Rodgers wrote additional songs, both music and lyrics, for this version. His partner Oscar Hammerstein had died in 1960.

In 1969, The Muny in St. Louis presented the world stage premiere of State Fair starring Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. The production was directed by James Hammerstein, supervised by Richard Rodgers and also choreographed by Tommy Tune.

In 1992 a new stage adaptation, by Tom Briggs and Louis Mattioli, was produced as part of the Broadway Preview Series at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and was directed and choreographed by Randy Skinner. A re-staging of the 1992 version received a lengthy national tour, opening at the 1995 Iowa State Fair.

The Broadway production, co-directed by James Hammerstein (Oscar's son) and Randy Skinner and choreographed by Skinner opened on March 27, 1996 at the Music Box Theatre, where it ran for 110 performances and eight previews. The production received 1996 Tony Award nominations for Best Score and Best Featured Actor in a Musical. It also received three Drama Desk nominations for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Scott Wise and Ben Wright and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Donna McKechnie. In 2010, the show debuted onstage in London for a brief run.

It is interesting to follow the lineage of the show and realize that as a stage production it did not receive critical acclaim until 46 years after the original screen musical was written.

NOW BACK TO THE REVIEW

The Sanders Theater in the Fort Worth Community Theater Building is the residence home to The Stolen Shakespeare Guild. Set in the Cultural district and with a lobby adjacent to multiple galleries it is an arty fun place to visit. The theater space itself is basically a black box theater with 4 rows of riser seating. The seats aren’t reserved and the space is intimate. The small space is a great venue for creative thinkers and SSG has many of them.

The set for the 1946 Iowa State Fair and the Frake farm was comprised of 3 or 4 3D pieces that pivoted during transitions. Minimal in design they were very effective used for fast scene changes and defining spaces and playing areas. The limited space and large cast of 25 or so were artfully blocked and choreographed to create charming and well defined pictures throughout STATE FAIR. Directors and Set Designers Jason and Lauren Morgan worked with Master Builder Jason Glen to create a seamless sense of movement with actors and set pieces alike. A careful attention to detail and design worked very well.

Design elements were consistent in this well dressed but not fussy production were evident in costumes and hair as well. Costuming was refreshingly appropriate for a State Fair- The Fairtones were lovely and not too risqué in their satin dresses, while Abel and Melissa Frake were dandy in their Sunday best, and the ensemble looked like a proud bunch of Iowa farmers.

Speaking of Abel and Melissa Frake. Abel (John Wilkerson) was more than able. Mr. Wilkerson’s booming baritone and dry wit were the center of the piece. STATE FAIR could have easily dragged and been less than entertaining. Wilkerson is at home onstage and it is contagious. STATE FAIR is trite and predictable- but like home cooking- it can be comfort food when served with love and this cast offered lots of second helpings. Wilkerson partnered well with leading lady Jenny Tucker as Melissa Frake. Tucker is consistent in playing well her part and very much being the consummate supporter in both the story and the stage.

The young folks in the story were pivotal in telling the story well. Jessica Taylor as Margy Frake And Shafer Bennett Wilkerson as Pat Gilbert (Shafer is the son of John Wilkerson) were fine singers who didn’t let their vocal ability overshadow their characters. Ms. Frake clear bell like soprano and Mr. Wilkerson’s baritone where eminently suited to the Rogers and Hammerstein repertoire. Shafer took on some of the more challenging choreography with a great deal of panache and charm.

Talented actress Alexandra Cassens as Emily Arden and Branden Loera as Wayne Frake created some of the most believable dynamics on the set. The script is B+ at best but Cassens and Loera brought an A-game. Cassens dances and sings effortlessly. She is a joy to watch. Her connection to Leora is memorizing. Leora plays the conservative cowboy with an incredible easy grace and charm. He consistently takes the stage being understated, genuine and engaging. He would have given Gary Cooper a run for his money.

There are some stellar moments in the show you will want to experience. The quartet is wonderful. Beautifully sung and with an emphasis on fun, everyone will be engaged when the men break out in their barbershop harmonies. You will leave the show and Google the recipe for Mincemeat. The show moves along, song to song at a good clip. It is entertaining and good family fun. Most of all, for this critic, it is well sung. Very, very well sung.

The music direction (by the directing team) created an amazing choral sound in that little space. The ensemble was beautifully balanced and had a vibrant clear sound. I don’t often hear a community theater ensemble with that type of vocal polish. The music was unfortunately canned and the sound system is not stellar in the space. The music was stellar. Really exceptional voices and musicianship made this production of STATE FAIR exceptional. Indeed, “It’s a Grand Night For Singing.” Don’t miss your opportunity to enjoy this fine performance.




STATE FAIR
Playing through July 24, 2016
Stolen Shakespeare Guild Summer Musical Series
Fort Worth Community Arts Center, The Sanders Theater, 1300 Gendy St. Fort Worth, TX 7610

Second Weekend
Friday July 15, 2016 @ 8:00 P.M.
Saturday July 16, 2016 2:00 P.M.
Saturday July 16, 2016 @ 8:00 P.M.
Sunday July 17, 2016 @ 2:00 P.M. is SOLD OUT

Third Weekend
Friday July 22, 2016 @ 8:00 P.M.
Saturday July 23 @ 2:00 P.M.
Saturday July23 @ 8:00 P.M.
Sunday July 24 @ 2:00 P.M.

For ticket info, prices, show dates and times call Theatre Mania at 1-866-811-4111 or visit http://www.stolenshakespeareguild.org/