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State Fair review at Cadogan Hall, London – ‘musical theatre heaven’

Wendi Peters in State Fair at Cadogan Hall, London. Photo: Jamie Scott Smith

This gold-plated, five-star musical theatre event could change the face (or at least the sound) of how vintage musicals are heard and presented in the capital. The London Musical Theatre Orchestra was founded in June 2015 by its principal conductor Freddie Tapner to perform orchestral play-throughs of full musical theatre scores for fun, love and experience by its volunteer musicians.

For its first public outing, it’s joined forces with some of the West End’s finest singers and actors to offer a luxurious wallow in the unfamiliar, but often tremendous, Rodgers and Hammerstein-scored State Fair. Originally composed for a 1945 film it won them an Oscar for best original song for the achingly reflective It Might as Well be Spring.

When it finally received its London stage premiere at the 50-seater Finborough in 2009, it had an orchestra of just one – a solo pianist. (Though that was expanded to three players when it was subsequently re-staged at the Trafalgar Studios 2 in 2010). 

The LMTO finally played it as it would have been heard on the film, with a 32-strong orchestra – the effect is overwhelming. We rarely get to hear musicals this way.

But this is more than an exercise in musical nostalgia. Thanks to Thom Southerland – who directed the previous fringe incarnations of the show –it offers an effective concert staging of the full musical, in all its jaunty folksiness. It makes no apologies for it, but simply stages it as written. The story of the Frake family’s prize-winning day at the fair – dad wins for his pigs, mom for her sweetmeats, son Wayne wins the love of Emily and daughter Margy the love of newspaper man Pat – is a charmer. There are played with sincerity and style in turn by Clive Carter, Wendi Peters,  Oliver Savile, Emma Hatton, Celinde Schoenmaker and Richard Fleeshman.

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Verdict
A luxurious wallow in musical theatre heaven with a full orchestra that makes the music soar
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