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All’s ‘Fair’ at Holy Child

School performs little-known Rodgers and Hammerstein musical March 3 and 4.

Katie Bayless wonders how well “State Fair” — a musical in part about hog-judging — will play in Potomac.

“For a place like Potomac where every house has a Hummer and pearl earrings, the idea of having a pig is pretty foreign,” said Bayless, a senior at Connelly School of the Holy Child and stage manager for the show, running March 3 and 4 at the school.

THE 1945 screen musical that follows an Iowa family’s travails and romantic entanglements at the Iowa State Fair.

“Trying to paint the backgrounds people were like, ‘What does Iowa look like?’ And nobody knows, which is why we have mountains in the background,” Bayless said.

“State Fair” may be more foreign to Washingtonians than most operas and isn’t a typical high school theater selection, but director Valerie Carlson said she was drawn to the idea of a show whose themes are more Des Moines than D.C.

“It’s the whole idea of this Midwestern value system,” she said. “D.C., New York and Boston: How different can you get [from Iowa]? But that’s the reason I wanted to do the show. … It’s all the same themes we go through no matter where we live.”

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein penned “State Fair” in 1945 specifically for the big screen while “Oklahoma!” was still a hit on Broadway. The film musical was remade in 1962 but the show didn’t make it to Broadway, adapted with a few songs from other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, until 1996. It was nominated for a Tony Award but overshadowed by the hit “Rent,” which opened the same year.

“It’s a show that’s not done much. A lot of people don’t know it’s a stage musical,” though it has become increasingly popular among community theaters in recent years, Carlson said.

“IT’S CLASSIC Rodgers and Hammerstein. The songs just feel Rodgers and Hammerstein,” making it a great show for fans of classic musical theater but also family-friendly and accessible to newcomers, she said.

“It’s traditional Rogers and Hammerstein. It’s not something you see a lot of these days,” said Heights School senior Bobby Kilner, who plays Pat Gilbert, a big-city reporter covering the fair. “It’s a family show and it’s a good story.”

Kilner is one of seven male players, drawn from the Heights, Avalon, and Winston Churchill High School. They join an ensemble cast led by Holy Child seniors Jasmin Sharifi, Emily Spencer, Victoria Negron Christie Adams and Ali Kanne.

“State Fair,” like all Holy Child shows, is almost entirely student-run and managed, with set designers, publicists, and lighting specialists coming from Carlson’s advanced technical theater class at the school.

Cast members highlighted several production flourishes that distinguish “State Fair” from previous years’ shows. For one, the show will feature a thrust stage with audience members on three sides. Performers will use the stage itself, a series of tiered platforms and part of the auditorium level with the audience.

“WE HAVE a thrust stage and everyone else pretty much has a proscenium stage. It’s a different aspect of high school theater because no one really does thrust, or theater in the round,” said senior Elizabeth Duda, who is both a performer and assistant director for the show. “They’re going to be resurfacing the gym next summer, so if we were ever going to put platforms on it would be this year.”

Duda said “State Fair” also features more costume changes than previous shows. Last year almost every actor had just one costume. This year many have two or more; Duda has four.

Duda said that there is one more thing that makes “State Fair” special for her and the other theater veterans at Holy Child.

“From a girls’ school aspect, this year we have a ton more boys than we did last year. Last year we had three boys. This year we have seven,” she said.