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State Fair: The London Musical Theatre Orchestra – Review

State FairIt is rare these days to have a 32 piece orchestra doing an entire musical in London from start to finish. Of the current West End shows, perhaps only the orchestra in The Phantom of the Opera comes close to the size of The London Musical Theatre Orchestra (LMTO), having retained its entire setup since 1985.

This first public outing for the LMTO, under the baton of fresh-faced and energetic Freddie Tapner, is utterly sublime. State Fair is an excellent choice to launch what is set to be a series of ‘in concert’ evenings, particularly as there haven’t been too many productions of it in London. The only one that comes to mind is a 2009 production at Finborough Theatre, that later transferred to the Trafalgar Studios. LMTO secured the services of the same director of that earlier production, Thom Southerland, now artistic director of Charing Cross Theatre, to direct this version.

Naturally, an orchestra is going to do more justice to this Rodgers and Hammerstein score than just a piano did during the said Finborough run. But if that production had its cast dancing “on a tiny brick” (to quote In The Heights), this star-studded cast stood aside during what would in a fully staged version be, I should imagine, quite exhilarating choreography. And there is little point referring to the 1946 film in order to see what these dance sequences would look like – there is relatively little dancing in that compared to the 1996 Broadway adaptation, which this concert is a rendering of.

Here, the concert feel is heightened as the spotlight is purely on the orchestra in the dance numbers – and, boy, does this score shine. The storyline is as straightforward as they come in musicals: the Frake family attend a state fair, a sort of annual get-together and knees-up. The older generation have their intentions and aims, as do the younger ones, and in the end, all who attended had themselves a good time with positive outcomes. It is, in essence, as light-hearted a show as possible. If the biggest problem encountered by anybody appears to be losing a $5 bet, these characters do live comfortably indeed.

The sound balance was excellent throughout between singers and orchestra. As for the storyline, unencumbered by politics or deep philosophical considerations, the audience has a good time too. Of the musical numbers, the most noteworthy tune is ‘All I Owe Ioway’, led by Abel Frake (Clive Carter); the song is best described as a Midwestern hoedown. Celinde Schoenmaker’s Margy Frake is appropriately innocent and sweet, and Richard Fleeshman’s Pat Gilbert consummately convincing as the budding journalist courting her. The Frakes’ matriarch, Melissa, was portrayed so well by Wendi Peters, displaying a mixture of confidence and vulnerability dependent on whether she was on terra firma at home or in what for her is unchartered territory. Oliver Savile’s Wayne Frake hitches up with Emma Hatton’s Emily Arden, and had the Frakes been a larger family we might have ended up with a variation of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It really is as carefree and jolly as that.

There is precisely nothing deep or profound to take away from State Fair, except perhaps the old adage ‘carpe diem’, or the newer equivalent, ‘you only live once’. But it’s fun, fun, fun, and the audience left feeling jubilant at having seen – and heard – a concert version of State Fair done magnificently. “Our State Fair is the best State Fair,” sing the large cast once more during the encore. Almost anywhere else that may have come across as a little arrogant. As far as this performance goes, it’s a fair assessment. I would urge anyone with an appreciation of musical theatre to consider an LMTO concert in future. An altogether splendid performance.

5 Stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ever popular State Fair performed for the first time on the London stage as a symphonic concert by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra under award-winning director and Evening Standard Awards nominee Thom Southerland.

Cast includes:
Wendi Peters (Melissa Frake) – best known for her role as Cilla Battersby Brown in Coronation Street, as regular character Cook Jenkins in BBC’s Hetty Feather, and with extensive stage credits, including, most recently Hatched ’n’ Dispatched (Park Theatre), Oh What a Lovely War! (National Tour) and White Christmas (Dominion Theatre). Richard Fleeshman (Pat) – appeared as Bobby Strong in Urinetown (St James Theatre), Sam in Ghost The Musical (West End and Broadway, WhatsOnStage Award for Best Actor in a Musical) and Warner in Legally Blonde The Musical (Savoy Theatre); Emma Hatton (Emily) Emma has just finished playing the lead role of Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked. She is also a celebrated jazz singer with a Number 1 EP; Oliver Savile Oliver is currently starring in the West End as Fiyero in Wicked; Celinde Schoenmaker – currently playing Cristine in The Phantom of the Opera (West End) and recently Fantine in Les Miserables.

Other roles within State Fair played by the London Musical Theatre Chorus: Rebecca Ridout, Jessica Duncan, Charlie-Jade Jones, Rebecca Withers, Lizzie Wofford, Lizzie Jay, Elizabeth Bright, Ana Richardson, Tom Sterling, Chris McGuigan, Hywel Dowsell,  Toby Hine, Oliver Stanley, Matthew Pennington, Richard James King.

Show: LMTO Presents Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair
Venue: Cadogan Hall, 5 Sloane Terrace, London, SW1X 9DQ
Date: 6th November 2016
Time: 18:30

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