Posts Tagged ‘Philip Rham’

Review – State Fair – Finborough Theater

August 21, 2009

On Wednesday, Worthy Opponent, hard core musicals fan Amy, and I headed to the great wild west of London (Earl’s Court, to be more precise) to see the Finborough Theater’s production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s State Fair, which I’d been told about on somebody’s Twitter feed. This show had special interest to be because 1) it was Rogers and Hammerstein and 2) it was the show of theirs that was originally written for a movie and was done when R&J were at the height of their powers. And, of course, I’d never seen it, in part because as a musical to be performed live, it’s a fairly new creation. To top it all off, it was directed by Thom Sutherland, who’s Annie Get Your Gun was one of the best musicals I’ve seen in London.

My hope was that seeing this would expose me to a motherlode of missing R&H songs of the same caliber as those in Oklahoma. But it wasn’t the case, and instead, most of the songs seemed weak or throwaways, though “All I Owe Ioway” (“I-O-I-O-WAY!”) was a real barn burner (tee hee) and “More than Just A Friend” (a.k.a. “Sweet Hog of Mine“) was funny and had great barbershop-style harmonies. Researching this later, this makes some sense, as many of these songs were actually discards. The original five from the 1945 film included Academy Award winner, “It Might As Well Be Spring,” but, really, five songs isn’t much to build a musical on, so it makes sense that they had to add more – but unfortunately this did not allow for a production that even had the least hopes of Oklahoma‘s musicality.

The script itself was also rather thin. I’m actually very willing to buy into a show about a farm family putting their prize pickles and pigs into a competition – hell, I’ve entered my own baked goods into the Johnson County fair and the Arizona State fair, so I’m no stranger to the whole business – but the plot line about the romance between Wayne Frake (Siôn Lloyd) and Emily (Helen Phillips?) just didn’t make any sense to me. It’s possible the other romance, that of Margy (Laura Main) and Pat, only made sense because Margy had a glorious, peaches and cream innocence to her – and voice that matched – but I suspect that instead I found her wish to not be trapped in a romance she didn’t want back home, and Pat’s desire to not be trapped in a dead-end job after the excitement of being a war correspondence (which leads to him standing Margy up the last night of the fair) far more honest than a showgirl falling for a farm boy in any way.

Or, well, maybe some of it was just how horrible Emily was. I have to blame the costuming for this; with her 2009 sharp edged blonde locks and 1980s ball gowns, she looked like a slumming Russian hooker. (In her first appearance, I was convinced she was a prostitute working the midway – which I found a bit hard to combine with the family-friendly nature of a 40’s musical, but which is what goes on in real life at these fairs.) This combined with her inability to sell the role served to pretty much kill any scene that she was in.

This leads to a more general complaint: the costuming and hair for this show actually brought it down a full two stars, as it DISTRACTED me from the show. So many things were so horribly wrong – the tiered red skirt one of the actresses wore, Ma’s god-awful hair (totally nice in real life but layered hair just wasn’t happening in the 40s), the vile dresses the nightclub singers wore. I could almost forgive the hair (except for Emily, because it was so utterly wrong, I would have donated money to the theater to have paid for a wig for her), but since there’s a MOVIE people can watch to do their research, where, I ask you, did they come up with their ideas for what was appropriate? Even budget is no excuse. The choices were so wrong that it looked like half of the cast was costumed from a bag that was pulled at random from in front of a charity shop. Thank goodness most of the men were passable, but AGH.

While many in the cast were good singers and Pa (Philip Rham) could totally fill the little theater with his big voice, unfortunately Ma (Susan Travers) was not hitting it the night I went. Perhaps it was the heat – it was so intense inside the theater (I’m guessing 30-33) that, even with my bottle of water, I grew lightheaded before intermission hit – it was like doing an hour long commute on the Victoria line in the worst of the summer. We were warned to bring something to drink on, but at these temperatures they should have kept the AC running during the show and let the cast sing over it. I gotta say, I can’t remember the last time I went to a show where I lost weight before the end of the night, but I had a dehydration headache like nobody’s business the next day, which was a pitiful thing given that all I’d had to drink was water.

Overall, while some of the dancing was good and some of the singers were very good, this was just a rather weak show – worth seeing if you’re an R&J completist, but otherwise far more fringey and amateurish than most of what I’ve seen off of the West End. And if it’s above 27 outside, I’d just skip it altogether – unless you want to wear a swimsuit and pretend you’re dropping in for a Bikram Yoga session.

(This review was for a performance that took place on Wednesday, August 19th. State Fair continues at the Finborough through August 29th, 2009.)