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Review: The Fix

Posted on 24 June 2012 by Veronica Aloess

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.

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess is an aspiring arts journalist and playwright, who trained at Arts Educational School London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. She is co-founder of Don't Make Me Angry Productions which is dedicated to original writing and innovative performance.

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Review: Dames at Sea

Posted on 01 August 2011 by Julia Rank

Dames at Sea is an affectionate homage to frothy ‘a star is born’ 1930s musicals, a cross between 42nd Street, Anything Goes and On The Town. It premiered off-Broadway in 1966 starring a very young Bernadette Peters (who was herself a last-minute replacement). Jim Wise’s score is sprightly and tuneful, while George Haimsohn and Robin Miller’s lyrics and book are playfully knowing and referential, without being in the least bit cynical. The story of an unknown dancer, who goes out on the poop deck a chorus girl and comes back a star and the new sweetheart to the US Navy, is presented with exquisite style and humour in Kirk Jameson’s production at the Union Theatre, with a sweetness rarely equalled by West End extravaganzas.

Our plucky heroine Ruby (named after 42nd Street’s star Ruby Keeler) arrives in New York from Utah with only a worn pair of tap shoes to her name; she lands a chorus line spot replacing a girl who has eloped with a rich patron, and promptly faints in the arms of song writing sailor Dick, who happens to be from the same tiny town in Utah. To Ruby’s jealousy, Dick finds himself preyed upon by the star of the show Mona Kent, the legendary “Lady Macbeth of 42nd Street”. When the theatre is bulldozed to make way for a roller skating rink during the dress rehearsal, the show is relocated to the battleship where Dick is stationed, and it transpires that Mona isn’t a good sailor. No setback is too intimidating for this team – when the chorus boys sink, the sailors line up to audition.

The entire cast is a joy: Gemma Sutton is kittenish and apple-cheeked as Ruby, with a delightful voice, touching vulnerability and the wholesome sensuality of a Betty Grable or Alice Faye. She’s well paired with the sweet Daniel Bartlett (in his professional debut) as her love interest. Catriana Sandison displays great verve and powerful pipes as Ruby’s more worldly friend Joan, and has an engaging rapport with Alan Hunter as her on-off sailor boyfriend, Lucky. The Phantom of the Opera’s original Carlotta Rosemary Ashe is a hybrid of Ethel Merman and Bette Davis, making an indomitable diva who stops at nothing to stay the top. There’s fun character work from Anthony Wise as the show’s harassed director and Ian Mowat as Mona’s old flame Captain ‘Kewpie Doll’ Courageous, and the ensemble are charming.

Drew McOnie’s choreography is a witty delight, including a wistful dream sequence for Ruby, a dramatic Latin-flavoured number as Mona and the Captain renew their acquaintance and even a bit of synchronised swimming in the Union’s confines. The chaotic backstage area is characterised by an array of trunks and crates and a curtain of $100 bills (by Kingsley Hall, who also provides the vibrant costumes – his first design credit). Steve Miller’s lighting is amongst the most creative I’ve ever seen in a fringe show and the twin pianos (MD Richard Bates) are jauntily played.

This is perfect summer feel-good theatre that made me smile and laugh throughout (though the ‘Oriental’ ‘Singapore Sue’ number could be eliminated…). Pastiche can often pale in comparison to the real thing, but this production is an irresistible slice of fun that showcases everything that is good about fringe musicals.

Dames at Sea plays at the Union Theatre until August 20th. For more information and tickets, please click here.

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