John Davidson To Star in State Fair Tour

News   John Davidson To Star in State Fair Tour
John Davidson will repeat his Broadway role as warbling hog farmer Abel Frake in a national tour of the musical State Fair, which embarks this September according to production spokesman Norman Allen.

John Davidson will repeat his Broadway role as warbling hog farmer Abel Frake in a national tour of the musical State Fair, which embarks this September according to production spokesman Norman Allen.

The production was reported in various showbiz media as a non-Equity tour, but Allen said the precise union status of the tour was still being negotiated.

Though filmed twice and previously adapted to the stage, the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein movie musical made its debut on Broadway in spring of 1996, but closed after a disappointing 118-performance run.

Allen said the 1996-97 tour will not be the same production, despite the presence of Davidson, but it will use the same Tom Briggs script, the same sets and costumes and the same score that adds Rodgers and Hammerstein trunk songs to the familiar film score.

The original score included "It Might as Well Be Spring" and "It's a Grand Night for Singing." Allen said no cities or dates have been finalized. Variety quoted Meredith Blair of The Booking Group as saying the show will hit large markets like Atlanta, Houston and Miami during a 35-week tour.

The producers are planning a smaller-scale version of the show, hoping to avoid some of the problems of the 1996 Broadway version, which was so lavishly produced that it failed to turn a profit even though it was drawing substantial crowds during its pre-Broadway 1995-96 tour.

In the end, keeping State Fair open on Broadway proved to be too much of an effort, even for legendary showman David Merrick, who came aboard as executive producer just before Broadway previews began.

State Fair, whose plot hinges on a $5 bet, was estimated to have cost $2.5 million to produce, and Merrick sank an estimated $2 million to $2.5 million more into promoting the show and making up operating losses. All, or nearly all, that investment was reported to have been lost.

"The public was the final arbiter, as they always are." said Merrick spokesman Michael Alpert at the time. The new production is turning to another public -- that on the road outside New York -- where interest in the show is reported by theatre operators to be strong.

The Broadway State Fair starred Davidson, along with Kathryn Crosby, Donna McKechnie and Andrea McArdle. McArdle, the actress who originated the title role in Annie, broke her ankle June 5, 1996 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 1995-96 production 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 may have been 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.

A Tony-winning Broadway revival of R&H's The King and I will get a new leading lady March 20 when Faith Prince takes over as Mrs. Anna, opposite Lou Diamond Phillips, at the Neil Simon Theatre.

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