In the end, keeping State Fair open proved to be too much of an effort, even for legendary showman David Merrick.
The stage adaptation of the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein film will close Sunday, June 30, after a money-losing national tour and 118 Broadway performances.
State Fair sold $154,000 worth of tickets the week ending June 23, or about 45 percent of its seats, according to figures provided by the League of American Theatres and Producers.
State Fair, whose plot hinges on a $5 bet, was estimated to have cost $2.5 million to produce, and Merrick, as Executive Producer, sank $2 million to $2.5 million into promoting the show and making up operating losses since its March 27 opening at the Music Box Theatre. All, or nearly all, that investment will have been lost.
"The public was the final arbiter, as they always are." said Merrick spokesman Michael Alpert. Alpert also said Merrick has shelved his announced production of Alfred Stieglitz Loves O'Keeffe, which was announced for Broadway this fall with Stacy Keach and Margot Kidder. Alpert said the 84-year-old Merrick will devote his time to reactivating the David Merrick Foundation, and putting together a new theatre awards TV program, The Merrick Awards, which would be inaugurated on a channel TBA.
State Fair starred John Davidson, Kathryn Crosby, Donna McKechnie and Andrea McArdle. McArdle, the actress who originated the title role in Annie, broke her ankle June 5 while performing the role of ingenue. She was replaced by Susan Egan.
Merrick made headlines when he sued the Antoinette Perry Awards over Stage Fair's nomination in the Best Score category. Merrick filed a $2 million lawsuit claiming it was unfair of the nominating committee to rule that only four of the show's 15 songs were eligible. The suit was dismissed.
Adapted by Tom Briggs and directed by lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II's son James Hammerstein, the musical used the original film score, and interpolated several songs heard in relatively obscure R&H shows like Pipe Dream or cut from shows including Oklahoma! Only the trunk songs were ruled eligible for Best Score. The show lost the award to Rent.
State Fair could be the last Broadway opening of a new Rodgers and Hammerstein stage work. In a career that included Oklahoma!, South Pacific, the King and I and The Sound of Music, among others, the only remaining major R&H project never produced on Broadway is the stage adaptation of the team's TV musical Cinderella, which has been performed at New York City Opera.
The closing comes, ironically, the same week that the American Movie Classics cable channel is preparing to devote a full day to a marathon of Rodgers and Hammerstein films, including State Fair.
A Tony-winning Broadway revival of R&H's The King and I with Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips continues to do healthy business at the Neil Simon Theatre.