Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Playing Politics

The Kennedy and Bush dynasties (not to mention the currently on-trial John Edwards) can't hold a candle to the Chandlers, the scheming political family at the center of The Fix. This stage musical was first presented by impresario Cameron Mackintosh (Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera) in London in 1997 but is only now receiving its West Coast US premiere through May 20th courtesy of Long Beach, California's renowned International City Theatre (ICT).

When presidential front-runner Reed Chandler suddenly dies during sex with his mistress, his Oval Office-obsessed widow (a delicious Alix Corey) sets her sights on their decidedly deficient but photogenic son, Cal (the vocally- and physically-gifted Adam Simmons), as the new candidate. With the aid of Reed's polio-afflicted but politically-experienced brother, Grahame (a superb Sal Mistretta, who theatre buffs may recognize as Pirelli in the home video version of Sweeney Todd with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury), Cal's unlikely rise to power begins.

The musical's book and score (by John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe, who went on to adapt The Witches of Eastwick as a musical for Mackintosh) aren't the greatest, leaving virtually no scandalous-cliche stone unturned: adultery, drug abuse, questionable paternity, mob ties, affairs with strippers, and even a creepy touch of homosexual incest.  A couple of these would have been adequate.  It also features only one particularly memorable tune (the seductive "I See the Future," which is brilliantly staged here) while at least two songs, "First Came Mercy" and "The Ballad of Bobby 'Cracker' Barrel," are redundant and/or excessive (though "Ballad" is undeniably amusing).

Criticisms aside, this is a superior production boasting an excellent cast.  ICT director Randy Brenner definitely elevates the material, with strong support provided by choreographer Heather Castillo and musical director Darryl Archibald. This is one of only a handful of U.S. mountings of The Fix since an initial, 1998 staging in Virginia where, interestingly, Mistretta first played Grahame.  ICT has wisely, economically pared the cast down to nine actors from an original count of 19. Also, while The Fix is billed as a rock musical, Archibald's handling of the score is more subdued in its current Long Beach presentation.

Stephen Gifford's scenic design evokes the center ring of a circus, and is beautifully lit by Donna Ruzika.  It is the very talented, totally game cast, though, that truly makes this production soar.  In addition to the previously mentioned Simmons, Corey and Mistretta, William T. Lewis is most effective as the observant ghost of Chandler Sr., Melanie Fernandez sizzles as Cal's stripper-lover, Carrie St. Louis is great as Cal's Nicole Kidman-esque wife, and David Michael Laffey is terrific in a variety of roles but especially as Bobby "Cracker" Barrel.  The remaining cast members, who are deserving of equal mention and praise, are Jay Donnell and Stephanie Hayslip.

Not unlike our two chief options in the 2012 presidential race, The Fix is less than perfect but nonetheless demands consideration thanks to ICT.

Reverend's Rating: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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