Dysfunctional. Absurd. Chaos.
These are words that could easily describe Thursday’s upcoming Republican primary debate, but in fact, are taken from reviews of the American premiere of the political black comedy musical The Fix, in 1998 when it was produced by Signature Theatre.
With book and lyrics by John Dempsey and music by Dana P. Rowe, The Fix hasn’t been seen professionally since, but is getting a revival at the place where it all started, with a Signature run from Aug. 11 to Sept. 20.
“It was actually one of the most—if not the most—requested show from our audiences to bring back for our 25th anniversary season,” says Signature’s artistic director Eric Schaeffer, who is directing the production. “It was a show that our audiences really connected with and that I loved myself, and we felt it was just the right time to bring it back.”
The musical follows the events after a popular presidential candidate dies in his mistress’s arms. It’s then that his ambitious wife, Violet, declares that if she can’t be the wife of the president, then she’ll be the next best thing—the mother of the president. Suddenly, her lackluster son Cal is thrust into the spotlight and, with the help of her strategic brother-in-law, Cal is transformed into who they envision as the perfect candidate.
“We’re lucky, because with the craziness of the Republican campaign right now and all the people running for office, it’s the perfect time for The Fix because it resonates the politics and the games people are playing to get ahead. Which is exactly what the show is about,” Schaeffer says. “The way I like to describe it is The Manchurian Candidate meets Caligula.”
The last time the musical was mounted at Signature there was also a noteworthy event in the political climate.
“Back then, Bill Clinton was in the White House and the Monica Lewinski scandal broke out,” Schaeffer says. “We have good timing because both times we have done this show, it’s been connected to some craziness in the American political system.”For those that saw the production the first time around, there are some slight changes to the script.
“When we talked to John and Dana about this, John said he wanted to do a few things, and he literally attacked every single scene when we started,” Schaeffer says. “There are a lot of little things and one big change at the end, so it’s been familiar but also new, which has been great for everyone.”
“It’s a great musical. It’s so well written, the characters are so strong and the score is so great, I think people will have a really enjoyable time. It’s a great black comedy,” Schaeffer says. “The younger people will just love the rebel that is Cal Chandler and what he does and what he stands for. He doesn’t want to play by the rules and I think younger people will relate to that.”
A familiar face to those who saw The Fix in 1998 is Signature vet Lawrence Redmond, who played Bobby Cracker Barrel in the original and has aged to play Grahame Chandler.
“He just loves The Fix and told me he’s been dying to play this part his whole life and is glad he finally got the chance to do it,” Schaeffer says. “We have a lot of DC regulars and Signature regulars in the production and our lead guy, Mark Evans, is from New York. He’s really terrific and embraces the part in a new way.”
August 11 – September 20
4200 Campbell Avenue
Tickets: $22 – $102
While the show has been dormant for the past 17 years, Schaeffer feels that the timing for the musical’s second coming couldn’t be better.
“What The Fix is, is what Chicago was in 1977. When it came out, people didn’t appreciate it as much as they needed to, and once it came back, the revival has played for 15 years,” he says. “I think that’s what’s going to happen with The Fix. People are going to wonder where this musical has been and this is giving it the chance it deserves as it’s a great piece of musical theater.”
Away from the stage, Signature Theatre is treating the whole production like an actual Presidential campaign complete with yard signs and posters, plus there’s a big presidential seal outside the theater for audiences to take their picture with, as well as other fun cutouts (like the White House).
“What’s fun about it is people come up to us and ask if this guy is really running,” Schaeffer says.
After Thursday’s Fox News’ Republican debate, we may all wish he were.