Surprisingly Rodgers and Hammerstein left very few "trunk" songs -- numbers cut from productions en route to Broadway. That lack of material presented a perplexing challenge for Tom Briggs and Louis Mattioli, who wrote the book for the stage version of State Fair and then had to find new R&H songs to augment the six musical numbers from the 1945 movie version. First Briggs and Mattioli added a tune that Rodgers wrote for a 1962 State Fair movie update; then they embarked on a scavenger hunt that unearthed songs excised from the final versions of Oklahoma! and Me and Juliet, while ferreting out lesser-known ditties from Me and Juliet, Pipe Dream, and Allegro.
"All those [songs adapted for State Fair] are completely unknown," explains Mary Rodgers. "You have to say, 'Does it fit the piece or was it shoehorned in?'"
While James Hammerstein is happy with the show's music, he admits to some concern about adapting State Fair's flimsy movie plot for the stage. Pointing out that the original musical was based on a book and a 1933 movie that featured Will Rogers, Hammerstein says, "It was written as a Depression piece, but in the update we feel the optimism of the postwar era. The fun thing that I think we did is, in a way, we tried to keep it as a $5 bet over a pig between an American optimist and an American pessimist. In America you don't need to have a Cadillac -- you can raise a pig, win $5, and still have a sense of accomplishment. That sounds stupid, but that was our guiding light. At least mine."
Still, even with the enlarged score and homespun story line, State Fair was not a financial success on Broadway. Despite that box-office disappointment, Bert Fink, vice president for public relations of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization (which administers and promotes the copyrights of the R&H catalog), maintains that the show has a bright future. "State Fair was an example where we actually proactively resurrected a show," Fink observes. "Tom Briggs [State Fair coauthor and director of the R&H musical library] said everyone was clamoring for a new Rodgers and Hammerstein. We license about 600 productions a year of Oklahoma! in America and Canada and feel that anyone who has done Oklahoma! will want to do State Fair."
Giddy over R&H's triumphant Broadway homecomings, Fink adds, "While they never lost popularity outside New York City, there was a perception here for a while that their musicals were old-fashioned, with people saying everything [about R&H musicals] is just raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens."
Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the book by Tom Briggs and Louis Mattioli. Directed by Richard Sabellico. Starring John Davidson. Through December 14. Jackie Gleason Theater, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. For information call 305-673-7300 or see "Theater, Dance, & Opera.