State Fair Synopsis
On a Tuesday afternoon on their farm in late August 1946, the members of Frake family work around the house in excited preparation for the Iowa State Fair (“Opening: Our State Fair”). Their father, Abel, is eager to show off his prize boar, Blue Boy, but his neighbor, Dave Miller, isn’t so confident. Dave makes a five-dollar bet that something will go awry, and Abel accepts. Mrs. Frake, Abel’s wife, thinks her mincemeat pie has a shot at winning the blue ribbon. Wayne, their son, is disappointed that his girlfriend Eleanor can no longer attend the fair and his sister Margy is feeling down without understanding exactly why (“It Might as Well Be Spring”). When Harry arrives, asking for an answer regarding his long-standing proposal of marriage, Margy promises to give him an answer when she returns home.
With their boar in tow and car packed, the Frakes hit the road to make their overnight journey to the state fair (“Driving at Night”). The next morning, they arrive to find the fairgrounds bustling with the customary annual excitement (“Our State Fair”). Wayne is eager to try the ring toss, having won a pearl-handled revolver the year before. Despite doing very well at the game, he’s hustled by the attraction’s barker. Just as the conflict escalates, a glamorous woman interjects, defending Wayne. Introducing herself as Emily, the daughter of the head of police, she gets Wayne’s money back for him. Wayne offers to buy her a beer, but she refuses because she’s working at the fair. Still, she lets him walk her to her shift.
Near the Temple of Wonder, a young, worldly reporter, Pat Gilbert, has arrived to cover the State Fair. To impress a photographer lacking confidence, he shows off his way with women by making a pass at Margy, who declines his advance. Wayne takes Emily to her destination and says goodbye, completely overtaken by the woman he’s just met (“That’s for Me”).
Abel is drinking beer with two of his fellow farmers, Lem and Clay, as they all look at photos together, adoringly. At first, their cooing and sweet-hearted affections would make you think the photos were of their baby children, but they are actually of each farmer’s prized hogs. All three men agree that Iowa raises better swine than any state in the Union because their pigs are treated with dignity and respect (“More Than Just A Friend”).
Pat and Margy make their way to the Dairy Pavilion after a ride on the roller coaster. It’s not as good as a few of the other ones Pat’s been on across the country. Margy remarks on all the places he’s been, and Pat describes his time writing as a war correspondent. He thought his past work would lead to something more exciting, but now he’s stuck writing about a State Fair. Margy doesn’t see it that way, though – the State Fair is how all of Iowa takes pride in what they do with their lives, and Pat marvels at her perspective. Though they don’t really know each other, they enjoy a unique chemistry (“Isn’t It Kinda Fun?”). After agreeing to meet the next day, they wish each other good night (“Isn’t It Kinda Fun?” Reprise).
Looking for Emily, Wayne makes his way to the Police Chief, who is overseeing the Starlight Dance Pavilion, where couples dance together in an open-air arena. Wayne asks the Chief where he could find his daughter, but is surprised when his daughter is not Emily, but Violet, an eleven-year-old girl in pigtails. Just then, the emcee on the dance floor’s stage introduces Emily Arden and The Fairtones (“You Never Had It So Good”). When Wayne spots Emily, he grins ear to ear, and her number finishes with a rousing dance. After her set, Emily tells him being the Chief’s daughter was just a joke, and they laugh about his confusion. Though she’s been on the road with the Fair for some time, her sights are set on the bright lights of Broadway in New York City. With Wayne heading back to Brunswick that Saturday morning, they agree to share a dance, and not to leave things complicated.
At their pitched tent overlooking the fairgrounds, Mrs. Frake asks Margy why she’s taking so long making Harry wait to get married. Margy says that there’s nothing wrong with Harry; she’s just not sure she wants the life Harry’s planned out for them. Having sworn to answer Harry by the time they return from the fair, she has three days to decide (“It Might As Well Be Spring” Reprise). Abel and Wayne arrive, ready to head out to the fairgrounds. Abel, confident his Blue Boy is the best hog in the Hawkeye state, is excited to take his wife out dancing (“When I Go Out Walking with My Baby”).
At the Exhibition Hall that afternoon, an announcer lists the contest schedule while the pickle judging gets underway. Pat joins Charlie in the audience, and Charlie hands him a telegram saying that the Managing Editor of the Chicago Tribune wants to see him Monday for an interview. Meanwhile, Mrs. Metcalf, longtime blue-ribbon winner for pickles and mincemeat, boasts of her past wins. Though she wins two blue ribbons for her pickles, Margy wins second for sweet pickle. Mrs. Frake is discouraged, assuming her mincemeat doesn’t stand a chance, but she wins the blue ribbon, ending Mrs. Metcalf’s reign. Charlie and Pat help the Frake family take a triumphant photo, and Mrs. Frake notices Pat and Margy’s chemistry.
On a nearby hillside in the early evening, Wayne mentions to Emily that tomorrow is the last day of the fair, and this is the first time they’ve had two minutes alone together. Again, Emily warns that they can’t get too serious – she’s Broadway-bound and he’s going back to Iowa. She’s started too many things that she can’t finish. Wayne, unquestioningly, knows that you can never look back – only forward (“So Far”), and the two share a kiss.
Later that night, at the Starlight Dance Meadow, couples dance with romance in the air (“It’s A Grand Night for Singing”). Mr. and Mrs. Frake dance together while Mrs. Frake waves hello to one of the judges, and Pat approaches Margy. When he asks her to dance, Mrs. Frake tells her daughter to “live a little,” and she obliges. The whole fair has erupted with singing and dancing. Mr. and Mrs. Frake share a kiss. Margy and Pat share a kiss, and as they turn to leave, Margy recognizes a man watching from across the dance floor. It’s her Harry, at the State Fair, all the way from home.
The next day, it’s time for the Grand Sweepstakes at the Livestock Pavilion. Abel is frustrated because Blue Boy is taking an inconveniently timed mud bath just as his moment of glory approaches. Mrs. Frake urges Wayne to go wrangle Blue Boy, and he brings Harry to help. Margy goes to lend a hand but is interrupted by Pat, who asks about Harry. With a sigh, Margy explains that everyone’s always paired her and Harry together. Stunning even himself, Pat says he knows what he wants, and it’s to stay with Margy. Just as he goes in to kiss her, Abel bursts in, worried about his fate in the sweepstakes. Together, he and Hank realize the reason Blue Boy has been acting up is because Hank took his “beauteous girl pig,” Esmerelda, out of their shared pen. They go to reunite the two just in time for Blue Boy’s contest and Margy and Pat decide to meet at the Dairy Pavilion that evening. As he leaves, two girls invite Pat for a night out that evening, but he declines, to their shock (“The Man I Used to Be”).
Back at the livestock pavilion, Abel and Blue Boy have won the Blue Ribbon! As the crowd chants “Blue Boy” in his honor, Abel is joined in a triumphant celebration by his family and friends in the spirit of state pride (“All I Owe Ioway”). Charlie finds Pat to inform him that his interview in Chicago has been moved up to first thing tomorrow. If he wants to make it, he must get to the train immediately. With less than a moment to consider, he decides to try and make the train, and leaves (“The Man I Used to Be” Reprise). That night, Margy sits at the Dairy Pavilion waiting alone for Pat (“Isn’t It Kinda Fun?” Reprise). At the Starlight Dance Meadow, the emcee introduces Emily Arden and The Fairtones one last time (“That’s the Way It Happens”). When her set finishes, Emily reminds Wayne that she’s taking the 11:30 bus to Milwaukee. After she leaves to change, Violet rushes him on the stage shares a dance with Wayne that ends with her promising to find him at the fair next year (“Violet & Wayne’s Jitterbug”).
On the hillside later that night, Emily and Wayne spend their final hours together. She starts to leave for her bus, but Wayne tries one last time to convince her to stay and give it a shot with him. When his urgency grows, Emily admits that she’s still in a failed marriage with a man who couldn’t take her constant absence. Before leaving, she tries lifting his spirits by counting their trip to the moon as something to be grateful for and reminds him to “always leave ‘em laughing.”
On Camper’s Hill, Mr. and Mrs. Frake look at the stars on the last night of the fair. Abel points out the north star they’ll follow to get home the following morning. Though Mrs. Frake is worried about the decision weighing on Margy’s shoulders, Abel is confident in their children, especially when it comes to love. After all, they eventually found their own way (“Boys and Girls Like You and Me”). Harry arrives, looking for Margy, and Mrs. Frake walks with him to the other side of the Midway. Wayne stumbles over to the hill holding a bottle of liquor, trying to forget Emily, and Abel offers to walk him until he feels better.
Margy, left alone at the Pavilion waiting for Pat, remembers when he once said that anytime he wanted to call it quits, he simply wouldn’t be around. She decides to not trust her sight the next time her eyes begin to glow (“The Next Time It Happens”). As she watches workers take down the fair, Harry appears. Sadly, but with certainty, she tells him that she’s not in love with him and says goodbye.
Back home at the Frake Farm, Abel yells to Mrs. Frake, who’s busy in the kitchen. He’s reading a two-page article about the Frake Family at the Iowa State Fair in the morning paper, with photos of them winning their prizes. When Margy hears a particular quote mentioning her, she knows who wrote the article. Dave Miller arrives, ready to settle his bet with Abel. In a big surprise, Wayne announces that when Eleanor gets home from college next summer, they’re going to get engaged. Just as Margy explains to Dave Miller that she has, perhaps, outgrown the State Fair, Pat arrives and explains everything about the interview and getting the job. When he gets down on one knee in front of Margy, she says “Yes!” before he can even ask the question (“Finale Ultimo”).