State Fair, Trafalgar Studios 2, London

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The Independent Culture

State Fair was the only musical that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein composed specifically for the movies.

Released in 1945, the film earned them their sole song-writing Oscar for the exquisite "It Might As Well Be Spring". Should we be suspicious that it was 50 years before anyone got round to cobbling together a stage version?

Well, it's true that the plot is not exactly nail-biting. Following the Frake family on their annual visit to Iowa State Fair, it must be unique as a musical in turning on the prize-winning potential of a pig and a jar of mincemeat.

It' s therefore a pleasure to report that all the show's compensating qualities – unforced charm; poignant simplicity; the robustly good-humoured fun that it pokes at its own corny absurdities – are joyously conveyed in Thom Southerland's clever, witty and touching production. The verve and ingenuity of Sally Brooks's choreography entertainingly prove that it's possible to create, say, a rip-roaring hoedown (in "All I Owe Ioway") on a stage the size of a pocket handkerchief.

Laura Main brings a lovely, wistful yearning to the role of Margy, the daughter who falls for Stephen McGlynn's tap-dancing local reporter. Jodie Jacobs displays an attractive line in wise-cracking sass and underlying sadness as the touring chantoosie with whom the eager, naive son (Karl Clarkson) has a bittersweet fling.

But then Southerland's entire 14-strong cast crackles with likeable idiosyncrasy, from Philip Rham and Susan Travers who radiate an affecting, old-fashioned togetherness as the parents to Anthony Wise's ridiculously smarmy judge who gets tipsy on Ma's brandy-laced mincemeat. If the melodious, uneven score (performed to Magnus Gilljam's sparkling piano accompaniment) can't compete with the classics from the R&H canon, Southerland's winning take on State Fair is almost guaranteed to put a happy smile on your face.

To 28 August (0844 871 7632; Ambassadortickets.com)

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