New musicals in London are few and far between, and even fewer if you don’t count those based on films from the noughties. But something caught my eye about Miss Atomic Bomb. A few months ago, I caught its poster whilst passing through St. James’ Park on the underground and the simple yet original design caught my eye. The title was intriguing and the image of a woman riding an atomic missile in the style of a bucking bronco gave me a sense of the possibility of being smart, satirical, dark comedy. Just up my street.
Last night I had a chance to see this new musical at St. James Theatre in Westminster and what I saw is something that I recommend musical creators and enthusiasts a-like should see in order to get a further understanding on how to make a modern musical. The show makes a few questionable choices in terms of plot and character choices, but it gives the London musical scene a very unique show which doesn’t take itself too seriously – a quality I hope latches onto other shows. With the success of Urinetown, it’s no wonder St. James Theatre was willing to put this on as the show shares some very similar qualities.
The story is based in Las Vegas, Nevada in the early 1950s where nuclear testing was granted in the deserts for atom bombs. The bombs became part of the lives of the people who lived near who all gaze up at them in admiration, not knowing much more than the explosions colour and warmth.
We meet an earthy, young woman, Candy (Florence Andrews) who along with her not-so-earthy, designer friend Myrna (Catherine Tate) want to pack up their bags and move to California.
However, they are soon halted by unexpected debt collectors, AWOL soldiers and communist theories before they even leave the state. To pay off the debt that her grandmother left (but didn’t tell her about), Candy enters the Miss Atomic Bomb beauty pageant – a competition put together by recent hotel manager Lou Lubowitz (Simon Lipkin) to attract people to his deserted tourist hot-spot in hopes that the Jewish Mafia don’t “off” him. Slightly “out there” storyline, but for the most, we don’t question it.
The show started and my heart dropped a little. I saw an opening number that didn’t grab my attention nor did the first ten or so minutes of script catch my liking to any of the characters or plot.
I worried that this piece was not what I expected it to be. Though when Lou Lubowitz comes up with the idea of a beauty pageant with a gun to his head, the show finally begins to break into itself, have some fun and find rhythm. The songs are comical, smart, satirical, and showcase a sense of mature immaturity. The script also has some very well thought-out dialogue and one-line jokes that instantly get laughs from the audience. The cast are a strongly talented bunch and support each other and make the best out of the material. The fault, however, is the inconsistency. The show doesn’t know whether it’s grand – Americanised musical theatre, satirical slapstick or whatever else in between. The plot-points and turns are hard to accept due to many coincidences and ex machina concepts that sort themselves out (musical theatre, eh?), but luckily the cast soften the blows of that with the energy on stage. Some characters are also underdeveloped and a tad lazy, such as our lead, Candy. She is an almost cliche, no-nonsense Tom-Boy character just so that there is an obvious comparison to a beauty contestant. I was sort of hoping she’d have a bit more depth to her than the “I’m not that type of girl” vibe with some family issues. However, Florence Andrews plays the role to her almighty best and belts out fantastic notes and emotion in her songs.
As expected Catherine Tate gets the most laughs. She knows how to deliver comedy and as much as I loved watching her perform, I couldn’t help but question the casting and Candy’s best friend. Simon Lipkin provides equally fantastic comedy as do the rest of this cast. There is no weak link.
Despite some of my criticisms, I still believe that the biggest triumph goes to Gabriel Vick, Adam Long and Alex Jackson-Long for creating this show. I still left the theatre feeling great which means that a lot is being done right and I know that Miss Atomic Bomb could have a much bigger life past its premiere. The songs, though not particularly memorable, showcase the actors’ vocal talents and the orchestrations are a joy to listen to.
With all new musicals, it’s very rare that it’s going to be done right 100% the first time around. That has not happened with Miss Atomic Bomb, but there are qualities in this show that makes it stand out from the rest. And even though with the subject matter and possible lack of interest from the public (as it’s not from a film) could prevent it from growing, I’m hoping this show gets a chance to showcase itself past the St. James. If the plot sharpens up, this show could be on the better side of new musical theatre.
Review by Tomm Ingram
Welcome to Las Vegas 1952, where every mushroom cloud has a silver lining and fallout is your friend.
As the US military proudly tests its atomic bombs within sight of the Vegas strip, tourists are flocking into town to cheer the blasts and see who will be crowned the Miss Atomic Bomb beauty queen.
But in the midst of this euphoria, farm girl Candy’s (Florence Andrews) sheep have mysteriously died, her fashionista friend Myrna (Catherine Tate) is designing clothes for pigs, young soldier Joey (Dean John-Wilson) has deserted the army, and his hapless hotel manager brother Lou (Simon Lipkin) desperately needs an atomic gimmick. In a city controlled by the military and the mob, time is running out for our four friends.
Inspired by the real life bomb tests and beauty pageants of the era, Miss Atomic Bomb is a radiant new musical comedy co-directed by the Olivier Award-winning choreographer Bill Deamer (Top Hat) and Adam Long (The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged).
Miss Atomic Bomb stars award winning star of TV and theatre, Catherine Tate, who is reunited with West End star Simon Lipkin following their critical and audience success in Sondheim’s Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
They are joined by Dean John Wilson who will take the lead role in Disney’s Aladdin this Summer, Daniel Boys – a finalist in BBC 1’s Any Dream Will Do and the youngest member of the musical dynasty Sasi Strallen.
Miss Atomic Bomb – St.James Theatre
Miss Atomic Bomb
St. James Theatre
12 Palace Street, London, SW1E 5JA