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The fair arrives early this year

Like the grand prize produce and livestock in annual state fair barns and exhibits, the score for the newly revamped stage version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's "State Fair" is something of a hybrid.

There are six songs from the original 1945 film version (the only time the famous collaborators tackled a project expressly for Hollywood), along with two tunes which were cut from their 1943 landmark musical "Oklahoma!" and six songs from other Rodgers and Hammerstein stage/film works ("Me and Juliet," "Pipe Dream," "Allegro" and the 1962 film remake of "State Fair").Theatergoers in attendance for the Theater League of Utah pre-sen-tation of "State Fair," Feb. 17-22, at the Capitol Theatre - starring John Davidson - will get more than twice the music moviegoers got 52 years ago.

It should be "A Grand Night for Singing," indeed.

Davidson, who's played everything from Matt in an early televised "colorcast" version of "The Fantasticks" to Curly in the 1965 revival of "Oklahoma!" in New York to countless appearances on "Hollywood Squares" and concerts and musicals, will be joined in this newly mounted production by his 10-year-old daughter, Ashleigh.

Another performer in the show, not as famous as Davidson, should also be familiar to Salt Lake audiences. Mark Martino, cast as Pat Gilbert, the brash young newspaper reporter who sweeps Iowa farm girl Margy Frake off her feet, played Smudge in the first national tour of "Forever Plaid." He also starred as Capt. Billy in the Pioneer Theatre Company production of "My One and Only."

Davidson has been starring in the touring company of "State Fair" since last August, and he'll continue into May, for a total of 36 weeks. "It's the longest I've ever done one," Davidson said during a telephone interview. He added, "This piece has meant a lot to me, since it got me back to doing what I do best, and what I love doing the most - live theater."

The 56-year-old singer-actor has also toured with "The Music Man," "Oklahoma!" and "I Do, I Do." "It lets me play other characters. I no longer have to be the young leading man. And the theater gives me a freedom that television doesn't."

It also provides opportunities he might not otherwise have - as when his "State Fair" character sings to a picture of a hog. "But not a live pig, never a live pig," Davidson said. "You hear the pig and see his butt sticking out of the truck, and we talk about him a lot - but he's never alive."

As for his daughter, Davidson said Ashleigh has two scenes. "She plays the policeman's daughter, Violet. It's her third stage show, and she's a little pro. She takes it very seriously and loves to work on her acting. My two older children don't care about show business. (Davidson has a 27-year-old son who is getting his MBA in business and a daughter, Jennifer, 25, who is a professional ice skater.)

Davidson says that after he finishes his "State Fair" run, he will be performing in "Will Rogers Follies" in New York City. "We've sold our homes in Branson and Los Angeles - and we're vagabonds. We're moving to the New York area this spring.

"I want to do theater for the next three to five years and then maybe a dramatic series. I have another project for this fall - `Bully!' a one-man play with 12 characters. Eleven of them are in my imagination. There's a lot of dialogue and a lot of scenes, but it's only me."

As for "State Fair," Davidson says it is the perfect example of what a Broadway show should be. "If you want to show your kids what a classic Broadway show is, bring them to this."

"State Fair" will be performed in the Capitol Theatre Feb. 17-21 at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Feb. 21, and on Sunday, Feb. 22, at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets range from $17.50 to $42.50 and may be purchased at all ArtTix outlets, or by phone at 355-ARTS.