America will never lack for political scandal, nor for public fascination with it. The tawdry details of the John Edwards trial seem perfectly timed for the rock musical The Fix, in its West Coast premiere at the International City Theatre in Long Beach. John Dempsey, who wrote the book and lyrics and Dana Rowe, who wrote the music, both received Olivier Award nominations when The Fix was first staged at the Donmar Warehouse by Sam Mendes in 1997.
Dempsey and Rowe are fine song writers, exhibiting a wide range of styles, from vaudeville to country to power ballad and beyond, in this tale of Cal (Adam Simmons), a recalcitrant slacker son whose senator father (William Lewis) dies in the arms of a cheap hussy. Iron-willed mom Violet (Alix Korey), along with her brother-in-law Grahame (Sal Mistretta) do everything in their sleazy power to elevate Cal from soldier to councilman to governor and senatorial hopeful.
There's a good argument for those Olivier noms, especially in the cleverness of Dempsey's lyrics. But the book is tonally inconsistent and filled with political impossibilities. The idea of a too-young governor shooting heroin and then naively deciding to destroy himself, his family and expose a mobster who helped put him where he is borders on the absurd, and alas, it is not a funny absurd. The Fix does not know what it wants to say and spends a long time not saying it. At its best, the musical not only has affecting songs but during a particular high note, has Cal singing a speech with cue cards facing the audience. One admonishes him, "Don't slouch." It is an amusing reminder of the artificiality of political campaigns.
But director Randy Brenner has an inconsistent cast pushed toward over-acting and ridiculous bathos. Korey's singing is harsh and verges toward shouting and Mistretta, as the gay, polio-stricken advisor, is garishly over-the-top. Simmons nails the soft ballads but his voice strains for the notes when things get loud. Acquitting themselves most impressively are Lewis, who voice and movement are well polished and Melanie Fernandez, who plays the role of stripper-druggie-other-woman well and has the shining moment in the show, powerfully singing "Mistress of Deception," addressing the minefields of love and politics.