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A CurtainUp D Review
John Dempsey's book and composer Dana P. Rowe's musical now playing at Signature Theatre is a cynical look at priming a candidate. The music is rousing and some of the lyrics are very sophisticated and clever.
Scenic designer Misha Kachman's building evokes the kind of pomp and circumstance that fronts deal-making and pecadillos. None of this will seem out of the ordinary to anyone who follows the news. Politicians are a breed apart. Especially those who are the embodiment of hypocrisy as The Fix ably exposes.
In the very first scene Senator Reed Chandler (Bobby Smith) dies in flagrante delicto. His soul, if you can call it that , haunts his ambitious widow Violet (Christine Sherrill, a Jackie Kennedy look-alike) and his brother Grahame (Lawrence Redmond) who is confined to a wheel chair and hampered by his past. Violet and Grahame's thirst for power centers on turning Violet and Cal's son, Cal Chandler(Mark Evans) into a pol who nimbly climbs the ranks from local to national electoral office. There is, however, a problem: Cal is a lazy, spoiled rich kid who would rather smoke weed and screw around than run for office. Violet (who is about as far from a "shrinking violet" as can be imagined) and to a lesser extent Grahame, set about grooming him.
Cal's transformation is most ably confirmed by the very gifted triple-threat Mark Evans Though he looks as American as apple pie he's a native of Wales, the land of very fine singers. Cal is groomed, married off to Deborah (Jessica Lauren Ball) the innocuous, immaculately coiffed and conservatively dressed ( well done, costumer Hunter Kaczorowski), as his climb to the top proceeds. Following his mother's advice he is now willing to do "whatever it takes."
The pressure and the boredom Cal finds with the false promises he makes (to himself and others) leads to trouble. While looking for some down time, a diversion, Cal meets seedy night club singer, Tina (Rachel Zampelli), who shows him a thing or two about life on the other side of the tracks.
Waiting in the wings to wield his power is Anthony Gliardi (Dan Manning) a mafioso type whose knowledge of the pols less-than-clean past provides him with heavy-duty bargaining chips. So far, so good. With only a few slow patches this act works well. The inside jokes presented on the tv news projections go far to explain that this is satire and that everyone involved with the production had fun.
Act two is a mishmash of skits, styles and stories beginning with Grahame and Reed's "Two Guys at Harvard," an ode to sibling rivalry done as a vaudeville turn with Bobby Smith's delightful tap dancing. He's light on his feet and rhythmically smooth. A Busby Berkeley not-quite- burlesque fan dance adds nothing; also true for a torch song "Mistress of Deception," delivered unconvincingly by Rachel Zampelli.
Violet gets her turn with "Spin," a number that proves her acting and vocal strengths. "Grit your teeth, sell the lies ...." she sings. "Spin for the Gov'ner, to make him look pure, spin for the doctors, who spin for the cure, spin for the troubles you're desp'rate to mend, spin for the player whose game's at an end." Is it any wonder that her former lover calls her "a first class, high-toned Washington bitch?"
While the second act feels like out-takes from the first act, there is one show-stopping number, "The Ballad of Bobby "Cracker" Barrel" performed perfectly, with show-stopping zeal by the consistently wonderful Will Gartshore. Indeed, this all too brief ode to Violet's down low past is the high point of the evening.
Two other players stand out. Stephen Gregory Smith as Peter Hale the politician's bodyguard/enabler has very few lines but his stiff posture and determined demeanor say it all. Nickolas Vaughan's Army Sergeant leads the ensemble in "Army Chant" with a straight face and writhing body. Watch this guy's moves. It's impossible not to.
As always with Signature productions, the on-stage but hidden by a scrim 8-piece orchestra under Jon Kalbfleisch's direction is very fine indeed. The ensemble's ability to move as one is a given and some of Matthew Gardner's choreography is very clever. Although the evening is a mixed bag of good, very good and ho-hum boring, The Fix's highs are very entertaining.