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Michael Strassen’s The Fix at the Union Theatre – Review

Madalena Alberto and Fra Fee
Madalena Alberto and Fra Fee in The Fix – Photo by Darren Bell

A seductive start to The Fix had fellow theatregoers and I animatedly discussing a moment that could have come out of Fifty Shades of Grey. The sheer implausibility of what happens next could either be waved away by the traditional suspension of disbelief that is rather heightened when going to see a musical (as opposed to a straight play), or members of the audience could otherwise assume Reed Chandler (Peter Saul Blewden) had an underlying medical condition that contributed to him passing decades before his time.

I think this musical is supposed to be a satirical take on the American presidential election procedures, though this production gave it a more serious treatment, and the tragedy element is therefore more prominent than the comical element. Perhaps it is the current political climate in Britain. Perhaps it is that Brits, either by default or by design or both, look at a musical of this nature through a different perspective than American audiences would. And while there were moments of humour, almost entirely in the form of acerbic putdowns commensurate with political campaigning and its unpleasantness, these were overshadowed by a sense of sadness and regret that Cal Chandler (Fra Fee) was being cajoled into running for political office when it is something he had no desire for. Violet (Lucy Williamson), Cal’s mother, is the pushy parent of the century; her sheer ruthlessness makes it very difficult to feel any sympathy for her when her scheming and plotting eventually backfires.

The scene changes in this production are amongst the slickest in London outside the West End. Seamless, too, are the transitions between songs, wherever one immediately followed another, and between musical numbers and spoken dialogue. Both the lyrics and the book drive the narrative forward in a near-continuous flowing tapestry. Bizarrely, the costumes (if that is the right word for a production of this nature) lack consistency; in one scene, Fee’s Cal is apparently in ‘army uniform’, according to the script, but all we see is the same white T-shirt and jeans we saw moments before. This would be fine if there were no costume changes for Cal, but he is seen later in a suit and tie to look the part of someone indeed running for political office.

It’s a family tie to a gangster, Anthony Gliardi (also Peter Saul Blewden), that complicates matters for Cal’s political career. As this isn’t Jersey Boys, there is no ‘Gyp DeCarlo’ character to assist in mediation, so the mobsters go for the jugular vein. The mafia aside, there’s a particularly engaging performance from Ken Christiansen as Grahame Chandler, Cal’s campaign manager. Although his is a rather unpalatable character, the character’s physical state invites comparisons between him and Richard III in Shakespeare’s play of the same name: both are angry, controlling tyrants.

The sound levels are not always balanced. To misquote Longfellow, when they are good, they are very, very good; when they are bad, they are horrid. A couple of fellow theatregoers remarked that they felt Fra Fee wasn’t projecting enough, for whatever reason. I do not entirely agree, as other cast members were equally difficult to hear on occasion, so there is a wider sound problem going on. But when appropriately amplified, both Fee and Madalena Alberto, the latter playing the role of Tina McCoy, sound stunning.

I do not lay any responsibility at the feet of musical director Josh Sood or his band, who are far from excessively loud even at the most vociferous moments. I am reminded, irrespective of the root cause of this production’s sound problems, of a few lines from the satirical musical series Forbidden Broadway: “They [the audience] can’t wait to get back home / And read the libretto in bed / To decipher just what went on, and what was said / Better read the synopsis, at the end of the play!” It’s a pity to have to actually turn to the cast recording after the show to fill in what was missed – this really is not something that audiences should have to do.

Cleverly, the show takes a non-partisan position, and it is impossible based purely on what this production asserts, to work out for certain whether the Chandlers are Republican or Democratic. It is hardly the point of the musical, in any event. There are sufficient twists and turns in the storyline to maintain interest. I can see its appeal, even if it resorts to profanity to make a clear point about political spin machines “in simple words”. But the shortcomings in this production are too acute to be ignored, and reduced enjoyment of what is, on reflection, a very good musical in terms of music, lyrics and book.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Atomicus Entertainment is thrilled to produce first show at the Union Theatre’s brand new, state-of-the-art home: the triumphant return of Michael Strassen’s critically acclaimed production of THE FIX.

When the most popular presidential candidate dies between his mistress‘s thighs his status-starved widow, Violet, decides that if she can’t be the wife of the president, she’ll be his mother!

Thrusting her lacklustre son Cal into the spotlight, Violet is determined to create the perfect politician at any cost in this brutally comedic tale of lust, greed and scandal. With a rock-fuelled score, laced with scandalous lyrics, the team behind The Witches of Eastwick deliver a dark and spellbinding ride through the American political machine.

CAST
Cal Chandler – Fra Fee
Violet Chandler – Lucy Williamson
Grahame Chandler – Ken Christiansen
Tina McCoy – Madalena Alberto
Reed Chandler/Anthony Gliardi – Peter Saul Blewden
Peter – Sam Barrett
Frankie Diamanti/Ensemble – Daryl Armstrong
Bobby “Cracker” Barrel/Ensemble – Alastair Hill
Ensemble – Rhys Benjamin
Deborah Pullman/Ensemble – Kate Parr
Ensemble – Sarah-Marie Maxwell
Ensemble – Francesca Leyland
Ensemble – Laura Bryars

CREATIVES
Director/Choreographer Michael Strassen
Associate Director Paul Callen
Musical Director Josh Sood
Associate Choreographer Iona Holland
Lighting Designer Iain Dennis

THE FIX
BOOK AND LYRICS BYJohn Dempsey
MUSIC BYDana P. Rowe
STAGED AND DIRECTED BYMichael Strassen
PRODUCED BYAlexander Parker for Atomicus Entertainment

13th July – 6th August 2016
Tuesday to Saturday @ 7.30pm
Thursday, Saturday and Sunday @ 2.30pm
RUNNING TIME 2 hours 30 minutes INCLUDING AN INTERVAL
http://www.uniontheatre.biz/

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