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St. Louis ‘State Fair’ a colorful and
By Daniel Hines
good to be reminded of who we were and where
we came from. That’s the gift of Stages St.
Louis’ colorful production of Rodgers and
Hammerstein’s ‘State Fair.’
The setting is 1946 in rural Iowa. As one who grew up in a small
central Illinois town and worked on farms,
and actually attended dozens of local county
fairs and even the big one in Springfield,
IL a few times, the show is a great reminder
of the qualities and values of rural
America—values and qualities that actually
contributed to the state of mind of the
country, but are, unfortunately, suffering a
The story line is simple. The Frake family is getting ready for the
Iowa State Fair which is a highlight of the
family year, including the family’s champion
hog (a message for all those who are too
sophisticated to appreciate it, farmers do
love their prize winning livestock, even
though they eventually will sell the
champion to a high bidder restaurant ).
The sense of excitement is felt by the entire family (except for
daughter Margy who dreams of love that will
seemingly evade her surrounded by the Iowa
cornfields). But, of course, that’s before
the magic of the State Fair works its magic.
Of course, the real magic is, as always at Stages, the chemistry of the
performers among themselves that is picked
up by the audience.
I believe that the quality of the singing and the voices in ‘State
Fair’ is perhaps the best I have seen in a
Stages’ production. Christopher Vettel as
Frake patriarch, Abel, is outstanding.
Significantly, he combines his rich vocal talents with a highly
believable performance as Dad Frake,
exhibiting a wry sense of humor, combined
with a tenderness in his feelings for Mom
Melissa Frake, played to equal perfection by
Miss Ely has a quiet, dignified type of beauty and warmth that is
carried through by her beautiful voice.
With such qualities, it is no wonder that
she is a Stages favorite.
The outstanding performances by Vettel and Ms. Ely are memorable and we
can only hope Stages will use future
opportunities to bring them together.
Julie Hanson is appropriately cute, homecoming or prom queen style, and
surprises with her strong vocals coming from
such a petite person. The biggest surprise
was Preston Ellis as brother Wayne Frake.
As the older brother, he also has romantic
desires, which at the start of the show are
dashed when his hoped-for finance announces
that she is going off to nursing school for
a year. He plays the role in an understated
fashion—except when he signs. I was
especially impressed by the ease of his
delivery and the superb quality of his
A suggestion for a future ‘revival ‘ production might be to consider
‘Little Abner’ with Ellis in the lead role.
He’s got the looks and the voice.
Jim Newman is Pat Gilbert, a disgruntled newspaper reporter outcast to
covering Fairs after being a World War II
correspondent, is a combination of cockiness
that actually covers a vulnerability that
comes forth as he romances Margy. How does
it turn out? Come one, this is Iowa in 1946
and it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein.
There are three special mentions:
Hollie Howard is the worldly wise entertainer, Emily Arden, who, while
she has her sights on New York’s lights,
still enjoys flings in the Heartland. She
sweeps small-town boy Wayne off his feet,
and why not. Put bluntly, she is hot…and
she can belt out a song in the way it was
done in the era of Big Band stage shows.
But, we all need a laugh, and that is provided by John Flack, who
filled in when Whit Reichert underwent an
Flack, who played four parts during the
evening, was absolutely hilarious as a
mincemeat judge who gets drunk while
sampling Melissa’s entry, which has been
spiked with Abel’s brandy first by Abel and
later by Melissa, each without the knowledge
of the other. The whole bottle is poured in
creating likely the most potent mincemeat in
Iowa State Fair history. By the time Flack
is done, eating (drinking) the
alcohol-soaked mincemeat (which wins a
coveted seldom-awarded plaque for culinary
excellence) the audience is laughing so much
that they practically fall out of their
Outstanding production number: ‘It’s a
Grand Night for Singing’ was a colorful
wonderful production number, but was most
outstanding for the quality of the
singing—beautiful and of recording quality.
While some view the show as simplistic, that
is its quality. After suffering through
squealing Tweens on ‘Idol’ and ‘So You Think
You Can Dance,’ it is reassuring to know
that it is still possible to be entertained
with colorful productions, great dancing and
wonderful singing. I guarantee you’ll feel
better after seeing this show.