Merely Players give `State Fair' a blue-ribbon performance

Youthful talent, energy elevate movie musical

Arundel Live

April 24, 2003|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

That the musical State Fair gets lost in the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon is hardly a shock, since it's surrounded by the likes of Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific and The Sound of Music.

But despite being one of the runts of the Rodgers and Hammerstein litter, the musical tale of the Frake family's visit to the Iowa State Fair of 1946 - being presented at the Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park in a Merely Players production - is not without its charms.

The well-scrubbed, all-American story of blue-ribbon boars, liquor-filled mincemeat and love lost and found on the midway by the two Frake siblings is serviceable enough, and the songs, including "It's a Grand Night for Singing," "It Might As Well Be Spring" and "Isn't It Kinda' Fun" aren't slouchy in the least.

Hollywood thought enough of State Fair to bring it to the screen twice, and it still can make for a pleasant night at the theater when a talented troupe is willing to give it a run for its money. Plenty of youthful talent and energy is evident in the Merely Players production at the arts center's handsome main theater.

Choreographer Jason Kimmell, who also stars as family patriarch Abel Frake, has assembled an ensemble of dancers whose high kicking lights up the midway.

As demonstrated at Saturday's performance, the main characters are nicely drawn by some of this area's most accomplished young actors, and in cute bits throughout, the youngest members of the ensembles are encouraged to strut their stuff in fine style.

Kerry Deitrick, a senior at Baltimore School for the Arts who is bound for Catholic University in Washington, puts her bright, breezy soprano voice to excellent use as Margy, the Frake daughter destined to find true love at the fair. Her "It Might as Well Be Spring" is the musical highlight of the show, as it should be.

Margy's love interest, the jaded journalist Pat Gilbert, is played superbly by Buddy Pease, Deitrick's colleague at the School for the Arts. Pease is delightful as the spirited wise guy falling hard for the first time, and when he joins his co-star for "Isn't It Kinda' Fun," he matches her note for note.

Lanky song and dance man Matt Keffer, from South River High, is very good as Margy's brother Wayne, who quickly forgets his steady girl back home when he falls for a sexy, sophisticated, Broadway-or-bust singer played by Erin Tarpley.

The two are especially good in their final scene together, in which he stops oozing innocent charm and she stops vamping long enough for them to genuinely connect.

Balancing the gusto of Jason Kimmell's paternal energy is LaDon Hart Hall, who is warmly sympathetic as Melissa, the Frake family's Mom and (at times) sole repository of good sense.

Then there is the younger set. Matthew Wetzel of Lindale Middle School steals the show not once but twice, as a sleazy carnival barker and again as the laugh-hogging Blue Boy the pig.

Kelley Romanuski enchants in her brief stint as the police chief's daughter, and if you're as lucky as I was, maybe Anna Sandacz, a poised and charming 8-year-old dancer, will come and spin you around the aisle as the folks on stage belt out the homey "All I Owe Ioway."

It's worth noting that many of these young performers are alumni of the late Bobbi Smith's Talent Machine ensemble and are still delivering the sparkle and drive that formidable presence of their formative years instilled in them.

Bobbi would be proud of you, kids. Keep it up.

Merely Players' production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical State Fair will conclude tomorrow and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park. Information and tickets: 410-636-6597.

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