LA Review: 'The Fix'

International City Theatre at Long Beach Performing Arts Center

Reviewed by Eric Marchese

April 30, 2012

Photo by Carlos Delgado
Considering that it's been around since 1997, it's a little surprising to find the politics-themed rock musical "The Fix" only now getting its West Coast premiere. The show would have you believe that its cachet lies in its combination of timelessness and ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy, but what book writer–lyricist John Dempsey and composer Dana P. Rowe have created is an odd, sitcomlike, soapy rock opera.

Upon the death of U.S. senator and presidential candidate Reed Chandler (William T. Lewis), his ambitious widow, Violet (Alix Korey), taps their only son, Cal (Adam Simmons), to replace his father. Cal runs for city council, then a governorship, and ultimately the presidency. The problem: Cal is a drug-addicted rock-musician wannabe with no interest in politics, a fact that Violet and her brother-in-law Grahame (Sal Mistretta), Reed's lifelong manager, hope to change. The jovial nature of Randy Brenner's staging obscures Dempsey and Rowe's deep cynicism and that of their fictional creations. "The Fix" is a strange political animal that insists that success in the hardball world of American politics resides in following a paint-by-numbers formula, which also describes what Dempsey and Rowe have done. The show's satiric tone is closely akin to TV situation comedies, where all of the sharp humor is on the surface. Its operatic structure uses a few spoken passages to introduce the score's many brief musical numbers.

Rowe's music is slick, well-crafted, and professional, but Dempsey's lyrics and the contours of his plot are shopworn. The general framework, look, and feel of the show seem right; what's missing are compelling characters and challenging issues. As might be expected in such a superficial treatment of a complex subject, all of Cal's stump speeches are oversimplifications of the political issues at hand. The plot and characters need work too: In a halfhearted nod to "Hamlet," Reed's ghost appears to Cal on occasion, yet the potential for this spirit father–living son relationship is frustratingly incomplete. Cal's connection with Violet is an uneasy mixture of "Oedipus Rex" and "The Manchurian Candidate." Cal shocks the media and the public by dropping F-bombs at a press conference when something more plausible and dramatically viable is needed. What were Dempsey and Rowe aiming for when they wrote the show? The answer remains elusive.

Brenner's multitalented cast is certainly game, and he and musical director Darryl Archibald elicit powerhouse song-and-dance work from all. Mistretta is tops, outstanding as the shrewd, near-Machiavellian kingmaker Grahame, a tough, politically savvy spirit trapped in a frail body. Matching Mistretta's intensity is Korey's hard-as-nails, bitter Violet. Simmons uses heartfelt vocals to try to elevate the thankless focal role of Cal, and he almost succeeds. Melanie Fernandez is seductive, warm, and comforting as Tina, the goodhearted stripper who loves Cal. David Michael Laffey essays three strikingly memorable figures: a vicious behind-the-scenes mobster, a hard-charging cowboy D.A., and a forceful, gravel-voiced murderer. Fernandez, Lewis, Stephanie Hayslip, Carrie St. Louis, and Jay Donnell form the skilled chorus. From backstage, pianist Gerald Sternbach conducts a three-man combo that evinces a firm, accomplished handle on Rowe's score. The show's set (Stephen Gifford), costumes (Kim DeShazo), and lighting (Donna Ruzika) are crisp and smartly designed.

Presented by and at International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. April 27–May 20. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (562) 436-4610 or Casting by Michael Donovan.

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