If there are any L.A. musical theater lovers who are not yet Musical Theatre Guild subscribers, I have only five words for you, “What are you waiting for?”

Anyone who wasn’t at last night’s one-performance-only concert staged reading of The Fix missed one great night of musical theater, and there won’t be a second. Until MTG’s new season begins on September 15 with the 35th Anniversary production of Seesaw, here’s what you missed last night.

The Fix is a biting, dark, and laugh-out-loud funny satire of the American political scene, in particular of the presidential election process, focusing on a dynasty in the making.

When Senator Reed Chandler dies in flagrante delicto, Violet, his Spiderwoman of a widow, and Grahame, his crippled (and embittered) brother connive to make Cal, the Senator’s handsome but dim son, the next President of the United States.

As Violet, Michelle Duffy adds one more role to the memorable list of characters she’s embodied recently, making her L.A.’s reigning musical theater “it” girl. Sinking her teeth deep into the role, Duffy dazzles both comedically and dramatically, and sings the hell out of “Spin,” one of songwriting team John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe’s many show-stopping numbers.

Duffy is matched by a trio of performers each revealing new sides to their multi-talents. Michael Kostroff blends the comedic and the tragic in the role of Grahame, and sings with the exquisite voice of a leading man. Misty Cotton is sensational as hooker Tina (with the perennial heart of gold) and in a battle of dueling belters, follows Duffy’s “Spin” with a show-stopper of her own, “Mistress of Deception.” Making the strongest impression of all is Adam Simmons, star of Great Expectations and many Open At The Top musicals, breaking new ground as handsome but not terribly bright Cal, “America’s Son” thrust into the world of politics by his mother and uncle. With the face and body of a Ken doll (i.e. not bad on the eyes) and as gorgeous a tenor as you will hear in musical theater, Simmons proves here that he is a talent to be reckoned with.

Lyricist Dempsey and composer Rowe have written one of the brightest and most musically eclectic scores in memory. There’s the rock ballad “One, Two, Three,” the Andrew Lloyd Webberesque “Embrace Tomorrow,” the Chicago-like showstopper “Control.” Cal’s gorgeous ballad “Don’t Blame The Prince,” the syncopated and soulful “Dangerous Games,” the vaudeville inspired “Oh Those Harvard Days,” the Kurt Weill-like “First Came Mercy,” the revival meeting call and response of “Simple Words,” and the HeeHaw flavored “Ballad Of Bobby “Cracker” Barrel. And more.

Dempsey’s book skewers American politics in scene after clever scene. To make a man of Cal, Uncle Grahame makes him enlist in the Army. After all, he tells Cal, “You used to enjoy playing with your G.I. Joe dolls.” When Cal tells his father’s ghost (shades of Hamlet) that he doesn’t want to be President, a dismayed Dad responds, “That’s just me spinning in my grave.” Grahame instructs Cal that he should limit himself to three topics (the economy, crime, and taxes) and avoid using big words, to which Cal responds, “Cool.” Later, Cal becomes involved with mob boss Anthony Gliardi and the already dark The Fix gets darker still.

Those looking for political correctness will not find it in The Fix. Many jokes are made about Grahame’s need for crutches and at one point Violet tells him, “Oh I could hate you if you weren’t so damn pitiable.” When Cal’s drug-dealing girlfriend Tina tells him, “I want to be more to you than your supplier,” Cal responds in all sincerity, “But I’m a role model!”

Randy Brenner has directed The Fix to perfection, aided by one of the strongest casts ever in an MTG production. Danny Bolero is a sinister Gliardi, Gilbert shines (and does a 6’4″ cartwheel) as Reed, Sam Zeller is a great macho cowboy lowlife “Cracker” Barrel, and Christopher Carothers a perfectly suave security head. The sensational ensemble embody diverse roles and serve at times as a Greek chorus. These stellar performers are Eydie Alyson, Chad Borden, Scott Drier, Melissa Lyons, Samantha Mills, Eric McEwen, Brandon Michael Perkins, and Heather Nichole White, a standout as Cal’s handpicked fiancée Deborah.

Musical director Darryl Archibald on piano leads a gifted five piece ensemble, and Heather Castillo gets high marks for the show’s choreographed moments.

Making this one-night-only event even more extraordinary is the fact that it was put together with only 25 hours of rehearsal (per Actors Equity rules). Though performers carry script in hand (again, Equity rules for a “Concert Staged Reading”) they seem scarcely to look at them.

It’s doubtless too late for a theater to schedule a full-fledged production of The Fix in this election year, but this clever and biting show deserves to be seen more than once. Those in attendance last night can count themselves fortunate indeed.

Alex Theater, Glendale.

–Steven Stanley
June 23, 2008

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