“You can pretty much bet all you own that I would never leave another voicemail message for my daughter that wasn’t just like something out of a Rodgers and Hammerstein score,” actor Alec Baldwin declared on 60 Minutes in response to a question about his political aspirations, referencing the scandal that ensued over a leaked phone message in which he called his child a “thoughtless little pig.”
Clearly, the six-syllabled moniker of the duo responsible for Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, and The King and I has become shorthand for an unnatural degree of purity and sweetness, and that’s exactly what you’ll get from the San Pedro Playhouse’s production of R&H’s State Fair.
Not originally a stage musical but a 1945 musical film based on a 1933 non-musical film based on Phil Stong’s eponymous novel (allow me to catch my breath), State Fair won Rodg & Ham their only Oscar (Best Song — “It Might As Well Be Spring”). Unfortunately, the stage play’s pastiche of non-Academy-Award-winning songs comprise such compelling lyrics as these: “Our state fair is a great state fair / it’s the best state fair in our state” … something something something … “Don’t miss it, or even be late!”
Fly me to the moon.
But what State Fair lacks poetically is compensated for by the San Pedro Playhouse’s production values. A Technicolor-delicious palette of teals, fuschias, cornflower blues, and yellow-greens, combined with some of the best scenery and transitions I’ve witnessed on that particular stage, effectively evoke the Golden Age of musical theater. (Don’t be surprised if you overhear “They don’t make ’em like that anymore” in the bathroom during intermission.) The abundance of performers onstage at once, each of them selling Charles Barksdale’s lively, era-appropriate choreography, adds some excitement to the production, too.
All good things, since the subject matter itself is dull and worn. State fairs haven’t been interesting since Charlotte’s Web, and I don’t mean the 2006 Dakota Fanning vehicle. Who will win the blue ribbon for best sweet pickles? I can hardly stand the anticipation. And speaking of pigs: Will Blue Boy place in Iowa’s Next Top Swine? Find out as Ma and Pa Frake do-up the 1946 Iowa State Fair, with their two nearly grown kids (Margy and Wayne), a vat of spiked mincemeat, and the aforementioned hog in tow.
It’s tough to imagine a timeless, gripping conflict or action-inciter in that world, but there is one. The same one that lies at the heart of many a beloved musical.
Perhaps you’re familiar with it: Young woman longs to break free of her small-time/pastoral beginnings. She’s not sure what she yearns for, but it’s something else, which Eva Laporte establishes with effortless-looking beauty in her rendition of “It Might As Well Be Spring.” There seems to be an actual deficit of effort on the part of her onstage brother, Christopher J. Rodriguez, whose infectious physical exuberance can’t mask intermittent flatness and a struggle to project.
Between rollercoaster-riding and hoop-tossing, both siblings manage to fall in love at the fair, and not with Miss Maple’s prize-winning pies. Wayne goes stir-crazy for Emily Arden (Heather Kelley), a redheaded crooner who sure knows how to work the gams. Margy’s smitten by a wannabe smooth-talking reporter (Roy Bumgarner) with big-city aspirations. (She didn’t realize, apparently, that at heart, journalists aren’t so different from the über-nerd boyfriend she left behind.) While these romances may or may not be as lasting as the love between a man and his pig — tunefully elucidated in “More Than Just A Friend” (eesh) — they are at least cause for some sweet dance numbers. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Sweetness? And purity?
Depends on whom you ask. •
Through June 22
The San Pedro Playhouse
800 W. Ashby