REVIEW: State Fair, London Musical Theatre Orchestra, Cadogan Hall

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra make the Rodgers and Hammerstein score fly with the help of a strong leading cast. 

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It seems to be the year for reviving Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work. Earlier this year audiences were treated to their forgotten show Allegro at the Southwark Playhouse and now the London Musical Theatre Orchestra have treated us to a performance of the relatively unknown score for State Fair.

The story of State Fair takes place across five days on Frake farm in Brunswick Iowa and at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. The Frake family all heading to the fair to enter a few products into a couple of competitions while Margy has promised to give childhood sweetheart Harry an answer to his proposal after the fair is over – but along with her brother Wayne looking to have some fun.

This was apparently the first musical that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for film and what a score it is: showing  off their creativity with fun numbers such as ‘All I Owe Ioway’ and ‘More Than Just a Friend’ are numbers which have been particularly well staged in this concert but the more sensitive and emotional songs including ‘It Might as Well Be Spring’, providing that balance of entertainment with something a bit more substantial.

The long interludes between verses really allowed the orchestra come into their own, showing the depth of their knowledge and passion for the score itself.

With Thom Southerland adding a few flourishes to make the text fly off the page, last night’s performance revealed a wonderful vibrancy to the score that was equally jazz and big band influenced with numbers such as ‘You Never Had it So Good’ and ‘That’s The Way it Happens’ but still that sweeping romantic vibe that audiences know and love from other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.

Despite this not being a full scale production, audiences were still able to get a sense of what the production would be like thanks to the wonderful characterisations by all of the cast. In particular Wendi Peters as Melissa Frake is a strong but warm personality, complimented by Clive Carter’s level headed Abel Frake providing stand out performances. Emma Hatton as Emily was allowed to let her jazz and blues singing to take centre stage, while Oliver Savile’s slightly awkward Wayne constantly brought a smile to the face.

Celinde Schoenmaker as Margy is wonderfully charming and it is lovely to hear a different range to her vocals in comparison to her role in The Phantom of the Opera. Her innocent and dreamy nature of her character, works well in contrast to Richard Fleeshman’s slightly overconfident but charming Pat. Anthony Wise was hilarious in a variety of roles – but particularly as Judge Heppenstal, who has a fondness for Melissa’s mincemeat.

Now having seen this wonderful debut concert from the London Musical Theatre Orchestra it seems to demand that a proper production of State Fair needs and deserves to be seen in London – with this cast if possible.

“It’s a Grand Night for Singing” as the cast sing joyfully at the end of the first half – I couldn’t have put it better myself!

To find out more about what the London Musical Theatre Orchestra have in store in the future visit: http://www.lmto.org/.

Rating: ❤❤❤❤❤