The Fix (written by John Dempsey and composed by Dana P.Rowe) hasn’t had many revivals since its premiere at the Donmar Warehouse in 1997, and that’s a real shame. This musical is catchy as hell, and dare I say it, actually rather complex when you dig a little deeper.
The Fix follows Cal’s (Louis Maskell) rapid rise and fall in the world of politics; his affair, drug addiction and association with the mafia, as his mother Violet (Liz May Brice) forces him to follow in his dead father’s footsteps without caring that Cal doesn’t want any of this. The first act only touches the surface in comparison to the second, concentrating a little too long on the expository details around Cal’s rise (and story-wise has echoes of Lloyd Webber’s Evita and the song ‘Rainbow High’). Maskell and Brice lead the cast superbly, but it’s Miles Western as Grahame, Cal’s uncle and the brains behind the both Cal and his father’s political careers, that carries the show. Throughout, Western’s lines have superb comic timing (which is important as the rest of the characters’ dialogue isn’t as funny as it tries to be), but opens Act Two on a painfully moving song which sets the tone for the rest of the show.
In musicals, characters generally break into song just because they can. But The Fix is clever; the big numbers play on the showmanship of American politics. The chorus numbers scream of Broadway – it’s all tits and teeth from the sultry female dancers and it’s a wonder there were no jazz hands. As an ensemble, their individual personalities stand out but they’re always absolutely together and full of energy.
As a result, the solos feel more intimate. Rowe’s rocky score is delivered by Maskell like a rock star. Cal was originally played by John Barrowman, and Maskell looks set to follow in his footsteps: his vocal is flawless and edgy, and the delivery is sexy. He doesn’t overplay the addiction, but captures both the vulnerable and dangerous elements. His coming-of-age story is one we’ve seen a thousand times before, but is handled with maturity. Brice, in comparison to the crescendo this production undergoes, overplays her part, coming across as a little screechy with her lines in the small space. However her performance is one that must grow alongside her transformation from a ‘Washington bitch’ to a proper mother. In the Union Theatre, it takes some time for the band and cast to balance with one another, and I couldn’t hear everything that was being said or sung. The diction isn’t always there with some cast members and words get lost in Rowe’s heavy score. Notably though, beautiful Daisy Tonge doesn’t have enough stage time as Cal’s lover, Tina; her big voice and open heart swell in the space, and she’s a delight to watch.
Director Michael Strassen achieves a tremendous amount with barely any set due to the strength of the cast and their ability to command the stage, and Steve Miller’s lighting design. His use of spotlights and camera flashes distinguishes between when the characters are in the public eye and at home, and he dims the lights when Cal is indulging in more scandalous escapades with the mafia, or Tina. With the minimal props used, I don’t see the need for three serving trolleys to be forever coming in and out with drinks and such, but they are handled with surprising grace and little distraction. Strassen’s direction is appropriately neat. Everything looks right, and in politics that’s what’s important.
The Fix is an intelligent musical, it captures the superficiality of politics and translates this into song and dance. The musical rhythms of ‘I See The Future’ reflect those of great speeches like Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’, but also highlight how style comes before content in order to have such an impact. The Union Theatre’s done it again; this cast and crew are the future of musical theatre.
The Fix plays at the Union Theatre until 14 July. For more information and tickets, see the Union Theatre website.