Metro Weekly


The Fix is a strained, bitter pill of a musical, while Dogfight is sweet and tuneful

The Fix - Photo: Margot Schulman
The Fix – Photo: Margot Schulman

It’s hard to be excited about much of anything regarding The Fix. Signature Theatre first presented this bitter musical pill seventeen years ago, back when it was still an upstart with something to prove. At the time, mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh personally requested Eric Schaeffer consider staging the show about a presidential bid. In the current production’s program notes, Schaeffer writes that The Fix was “an instant hit” and enjoyed a “sold-out run.” Until this revival, it also stood as “the most requested show to return to the Signature stage.”

Taken at face value, The Fix (starstar) is a natural fit for the nation’s capital, with the region’s built-in audience of political junkies, who will no doubt see flickers of real people they know in the various portrayals on stage. Yet, in the end, you have to believe in a cause to feel passionate about it. But The Fix is too cold and calculating, a melodrama without a beating heart, full of characters we don’t much care for.

One of those characters is Violet Chandler, a woman who desperately wants her son to become president. Christine Sherrill portrays her as a tightly wound, manipulative political operative. Violet’s forever spinning, even in her second act showstopper, aptly titled “Spin,” where she shows a glimmer of human vulnerability.

Mark Evans is more effective as her son, the drug-addled Cal. Evans shines during Trump-esque moments when his blunt, simple words are so unexpected, they’re mistaken for pearls of wisdom. Cal feeds off the energy of an adoring press, but there’s little sense his heart — much less his brain — is in the race. He’d rather be shooting up heroin with his mistress (Rachel Zampelli) than trying to solve the country’s problems.

Dana P. Rowe’s music — a rock-oriented musical blend of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander and Ebb — is as uninspiring as John Dempsey’s book. Think of the show as Evita meets Chicago — with all the cynical maneuverings and political pomp and pizazz that implies, yet without the wink and smile, or signs of showbiz honesty. More problematic is the fact that the production amps up everything, apparently just for the bombastic thrill of it — Lane Elms’s sound design booms a bit too loud, Ryan O’Gara’s lights are often discolored and dizzying, and Matthew Gardiner’s high-spirited choreography is overcooked, to the point where it registers as only slightly more cynical than the show itself.

Dogfight: Harrison Smith and Tiziano D'Affuso - Photo: Traci J. Brooks Studios
Dogfight – Photo: Traci J. Brooks Studios

EARLIER THIS SUMMER Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were the toast of D.C., feted for the world premiere of Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage. The fledgling songwriting duo’s latest quirky musical, written with Steven Levenson, will make its debut Off Broadway next spring at Second Stage Theatre, the same company that put Pasek & Paul on the musical map three years ago with Dogfight.

Keegan Theatre is continuing D.C.’s Pasek and Paul party with the first-ever local production of Dogfight (starstarstarhalf-star star half), directed by Christina A. Coakley and Michael Innocenti. Pasek and Paul adapted this show, with book writer Peter Duchan, from the 1991 movie. The story concerns a boy and a girl who find love despite the odds, particularly the efforts of the boy’s military buddies. Bros before hos is essentially their motto, or, to be more precise — since the show revolves around a childish shore-leave competition to find the ugliest date for a night — — ugly boys before “ugly” girls. Neither Tiziano D’Affuso as Birdlace nor Isabelle “Izzy” Smelkinson as Rose are winners at that losing game, and they win us over through their honest and naturalistic portrayals, flaws and all.

Dogfight‘s music is sweet and tuneful, subtle and timeless, but with songs strong enough to stand on their own and get radio play today. Keyboardist Jake Null leads a six-piece ensemble that brings to life the many songs that could become show tune anthems for a newer generation of musical theater lovers, from “Some Kinda Time” to “Nothing Short of Wonderful” to the beautiful, moving ballad, “Give Way.”

Dogfight runs to Sept. 19 at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW. Tickets are $35 to $45. Call 703-892-0202 or visit

The Fix runs to Sept. 20 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. Tickets are $40 to $95. Call 703-820-9771 or visit

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