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

No, this isn’t an upcoming Meryl Streep flick or nighttime network series created to coincide with this election year, though it well could be. It is instead the setup that John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe use to open their highly topical and equally entertaining musical The Fix, now getting its official West Coast Premiere at Long Beach’s International City Theatre (though Angelino theater buffs will recall its Musical Theatre Guild’s one-night-only concert staged reading our last big national election year).

 ICT Artistic director caryn desai has smartly decided to bring back MTG’s Adam Simmons (a 2008 Scenie winner for his lead performance as Cal), director Randy Brenner, and choreographer Heather Castillo for The Fix’s first fully-staged West Coast production. Otherwise, The Fix at ICT is brand new from the ground up, and as exciting as can be.

It’s widow Violet (Broadway’s Alix Korey) who first gets the idea to turn stoner son Cal (Simmons) from slacker to political star in “Embrace Tomorrow,” which has her singing, “One way or another, if I can’t be the wife of the president, you can bet your ass I’ll be his mother,” to which her brother-in-law Grahame (Sal Mistretta) replies, “If you think you can get that boy elected to anything higher than student council, you’re as insane as he is!”

Violet’s insanity proves contagious to Grahame, however, particularly when she promises him a federal judgeship in return for his political savvy.

Grahame’s first move is to make a man of Cal by having him enlist in the U.S. Army. After all, he reminds Cal, “You used to enjoy playing with your G.I. Joe dolls.” When Cal tells his father’s ghost (William T. Lewis) that he doesn’t want to be President, a dismayed Dad responds, “That’s just me spinning in my grave.”

In “America’s Son,” Grahame coolly instructs Cal that he should limit himself to three topics—the economy, crime, and taxes. “They’re safe, you see. Not too extreme, not too abstract. You must stay away from big words,” advice Cal clearly takes to heart in his one-word response, “Cool.”

Later on, when Cal becomes involved with mob boss Anthony Gliardi (David Michael Laffey) and a hooker named Tina (Melanie Fernandez) who gets him hooked on heroin, the already dark The Fix gets darker still.

 Lyricist/book writer Dempsey and composer Rowe have written for The Fix one of the brightest and most musically eclectic scores in recent 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, soulful “Dangerous Games,” 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 that’s just for starters.

In its original London run, The Fix featured a cast of nineteen. Director Brenner whittles that down to nine for ICT’s far more intimate staging, with Jay Donnell, Stephanie Hayslip, Laffey, and Carrie St. Louis playing over a dozen featured roles between them, in addition to serving as a sort of Greek chorus to the proceedings.

It’s a downsizing that makes sense (and makes The Fix far more desirable to mid-sized theaters) in these tough economic times, and one that works artistically as well, giving The Fix an in-your-face intimacy it may have lacked before.

 In the tradition of those classic Shakespearean villains, Mistretta does powerhouse work as Grahame, the role which won him the Helen Hayes Award in The Fix’s U.S. premiere.

Speaking of Shakespeare, the uniquely fabulous Korey gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money as Spider Woman Violet, in addition to bringing down the house with the showstopping “Spin.”

Simmons is once again terrific as the handsome but not terribly bright Cal, and in addition to his all-American good looks (perfect for “America’s Son”), happens to have as powerful and pure a rock tenor as they come.

Fernandez makes an auspicious ICT debut as the tough-and-tender Tina, whose eleventh hour “Mistress Of Deception” provides a terrific showcase for the recent UCLA grad’s power pipes.

 Giving the ghost of Hamlet’s father a run for his money, Downey CLO staple Lewis displays his triple-threat gifts in the vaudeville inspired “Two Guys At Harvard,” featuring some fancy soft-shoeing courtesy of choreographic whiz Castillo. (Mistretta does some fancy “soft-caning” here too.)

Then there are The Fix’s Fab Four, a quartet of some of Southern California’s brightest musical theater up-and-comers. Multiple Scenie winner Laffey shines in two of the plummest roles, menacing gangster Gliardi and cowboy lowlife Bobby “Cracker” Barrel, along with various smaller bits. Donnell is dynamic as chief of security Peter Hale, Cal’s assistant Frankie Diamanti, and Chandler family physician Dr. Richard. Hayslip follows her recent electric turn as The Who’s Tommy’s Acid Queen with more crackerjack work here as speech coach Leslie Pynchon, and assorted others. Finally, the charismatic St. Louis moves from a trio of stellar performances at USC, where she is about to graduate, to an equally eye-catching L.A. professional debut as Cal’s blue-blooded fiancée-turned-wife Deborah, his mistress Donna, Chandler family maid Danielle, and more.

 The entire cast perform to vocal perfection under Darryl Archibald’s expert musical direction, with Gerald Sternbach conducting and playing piano in The Fix’s top-drawer live orchestra, which also includes Joe Jewell on guitars, Steven Bringleson on electric bass, and Tom Zygmont on drums.

As always, International City Theatre has assembled a couldn’t-be-better design team. Scenic designer Stephen Gifford has created a deliberately tattered red, white, and blue set, the better to match the Chandler family’s faded luster, which Donna Ruzika lights with accustomed expertise. Resident costume designer Kim DeShazo has come up with a humonguous bevy of character-appropriate outfits, with special snaps for making them fast-change-ready. Snaps go out too to sound designer Paul Fabre, resident property designers Patty and Gordon Briles, and hair and wig designer Anthony Gagliardi.

Susan K. Coulter is production stage manager. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA.

Following such winners as The All Night Strut, Songs For A New World, and last fall’s sensational The Robber Bridegroom, The Fix maintains International City Theatre’s reputation for producing some of the L.A. area’s best intimate musicals. For anyone addicted to musical theater or politics (or both), ICT’s latest provides a delectably potent fix.

International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley
April 27, 2012
Photos: Carlos Delgado

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