On Stage: Whatever it Takes

by Chuck Conconi

‘The Fix’ is a scarily realistic portrayal of the lengths a family will go to during an election.

Mark Evans (Cal Chandler) and the cast of "The Fix" at Signature Theatre. (Photo by Christopher Mueller)

Mark Evans (Cal Chandler) and the cast of “The Fix” at Signature Theatre. (Photo by Christopher Mueller)

Signature Theatre is taking advantage of the mesmerizing, stranger than fiction 2016 presidential races by revisiting and staging an energetic production of “The Fix,” a caustic political satire about what is a more real than fiction of the dynastic ambitions of a politically driven family that lives by the motto, “Whatever it takes.”

The musical, with an inspired book and lyrics by John Dempsey and music by Dana P. Rowe, had its world premiere at Signature in 1998 and was directed by Eric Schaeffer, the theatre’s artistic director, who is again directing this production. It is a wonderfully cynical musical with a touch of “Macbeth,” a bit of the “Godfather,” and with elements of political families we might recognize.

Scheffer is obviously aware this is the right time to stage an outrageous musical that opens with Senator Reed Chandler, the pivotal character, who has a heart attack and dies in the throes of a sexual climax with his mistress. That has been known to happen.

There is hardly time for the senator’s body to turn cold when his wife, Violet, with Shakespearean callousness, determines that too much has been politically invested in the family name and that is too politically salable to be allowed to die. There is, she is quick to reason, their son, Cal Chandler, who with the proper control can be groomed and prepared for higher office.

If doesn’t matter to her that Cal (Mark Evans) is an indifferent slacker with no discernible ambitions, especially not for a career in elected office. But with the manipulative talents of the senator’s savvy brother, Grahame, she knows Cal can be molded into a carefully scripted, successful candidate. Grahame, who has no respect for Cal, angrily refuses until Violet suggests there could be a judgeship for him if he cooperates.

Grahame has always been the frustrated smarter brother, but because he was crippled by polio and wears leg braces and uses crutches, he has been forced to remain in the background and successfully guide his brother’s political career. One of the more delightful numbers in the show is when Grahame (Lawrence Redmond), and Reed (Bobby Smith), who appears at times from the dead wearing a white suit, perform “Two Guys at Harvard.” It is a wonderfully comical number with a tap dance, soft shoe performance, cleverly using the crutches as canes in a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby routine. Both Smith and Redmond are masterful veterans who know how to command a stage.

In preparing the necessary electable resume for Cal, Grahame and Violet enlist him into the Army, where with good fortune, he is slightly injured and earns a Purple Heart. The next necessity is a proper wife. They find a presentable and photogenic girl from a good family that costume designer Hunter Kaczorowski dresses in a sarcastic characterization of a 1950s Stepford Wife. Kaczorowski dresses Violet, the elegant Christine Sherrill, in smart, conservative suits and dresses that take advantage of Sherrill’s sleek build and emphasizes the character’s sophistication and focused determination.

Sherrill portrays a brittle women, who thrived on being the wife of a successful political figure, but resented the embarrassment of his dalliances. When she sings, “Spin,” a beautiful lament in which she bares the disappointment and frustration she feels, you feel a composition and admiration for her in spite of what she has become.

In an exaggerated display of just how programmed Cal is, Schaeffer stages Cal giving a speech, with the words appearing on large screen television sets that are across the back of the set. Cal delivers it word-for-word, and carefully follows the italic directions on when to look left and when to look right, and when to point or rest both hands on the lectern. He has become a political consultant’s dream.

And then, the dark turning point. Cal, unhappy with his programmed life, meets Tina (Rachel Zampelli), a night club singer with sinister connections. Photographs surface of Cal having sex with Tina, a women he has fallen in love with, that threaten his political rise. Grahame contacts Anthony Gliardi (Dan Manning) a thuggish wise guy who can, for a price, make the problem go away. There are promises that Gliardi will have influence when Cal is elected to the senate.

The cover-up works for a time, but Cal, on the eve of a nomination to run for the senate, develops a conscience and comes clean about his family and the family’s criminal connections. He decides to leave office, get a divorce, and marry Tina. But it is too late and he is confronted by an angry, armed Gliardi who had expected to benefit with an elected official he had in his pocket. The loss of Cal is only a temporary set-back for Violet who decides now it is her turn.

Rowe’s exuberant music is masterfully controlled by Signature’s conductor Jon Kalbfleisch and the eight-piece orchestra hidden atop the white, columned executive mansion design of Misha Kachman. It is a minimal set that accommodates the large cast that at times fill the stage.

“The Fix” is an amusing, satirical exaggeration that somehow seems less exaggerated as the 2016 presidential campaign dominates the news and the “real life” candidates seem to echo the Chandler family motto, “Whatever it takes.”

“The Fix” continues through September 20 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va. Tickets are $40-$92 and available at 703-820-9771 or online here



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