Sheep farmers, the army, a failing hotel & the nuclear science effort collide in the effortlessly fun (and brand new) musical Miss Atomic Bomb. Making its world première at the St James Theatre in Victoria, the show was co-written by Adam Long, Gabriel Vick & Alex Jackson-Long and takes its inspiration from the atom bomb tests & accompanying beauty pageants of 1950s America.
It’s become a bit of a rare thing to see a truly original British musical, given the recent propensity to adapt films for the stage in musical form. So when one comes along that’s as inventive & witty as this, it really makes you wonder what all the other writers are up to… True, it’s unlikely that there’s an infinite number of new ideas waiting to be birthed, but Miss Atomic Bomb proves that we are far from finished yet.
Whilst its tongue does remain firmly in cheek for a good part of the show, that doesn’t stop it from having a genuine storyline & a feeling of credibility. Miss Atomic Bomb is a collection of musical theatre pastiches, combined in such a smart way to create something new, vibrant & thoroughly entertaining. Long, Vick & Jackson-Long together have written a show full of musical hooks & quirky rhymes that will stay in your head long after the final bow.
With Bill Deamer on board as choreographer (as well as sharing directing duties with Long), you know you’ll be in for a treat. In 2013 he won the Best Choreographer Olivier Award for Top Hat, and you can see the influence of classic musical choreography in several dance numbers – in particular a show-stopping tap routine that is an absolute highlight of the show.
As expected with the relatively intimate setting of the St James, the set is minimal, comprising an archway ladder (providing the occasional variation in level) and assorted props. The background screen works well in displaying the change in location.
The final atomic blast effect is brilliantly done, thanks to the screen, Tim Deiling’s lighting design & Gareth Owen’s sound – and comes complete with its own ‘fallout’ for the front few rows.
The ensemble is incredibly hard-working, taking on numerous roles & performing many an energetic dance routine, but of those a special mention should go to Charles Brunton. Spending a significant amount of the first act in a typical 50s style white tuxedo, he metamorphoses into something rather unexpected for the entirety of the second…
Mr Potts, the single-minded bank manager, is played to melodramatic perfection by Daniel Boys. There is a definite whiff of Javert about him (most notably in the loan number 59643…) and he is just delightfully mean.
Florence Andrews plays our all-American heroine, Candy Johnson. She is feisty & funny – and boy, can she sing! Her ability to keep a straight face whilst singing some frankly ridiculous lyrics is admirable, and makes the whole thing even more hysterical. (You’ll know what I mean when you get to ‘Where There’s Sheep There’s Hope’.)
In Dean John-Wilson a star truly is born. Playing Lou’s younger brother, Joey, he manages to be both endearing & hilarious in equal measure. On top of this he has a wonderful singing voice, showing off a remarkable range & harmonising beautifully in his duets. There is a real chemistry between him & Andrews, adding credence to their developing relationship.
Catherine Tate (Myrna) does a superlative job in leading the cast; she plays to her natural comic instincts and possesses a surprisingly good voice. The only thing letting her down is the occasional Australian twang to her accent, but this does not affect her ability to get laughs by the bucketload.
Once again, Simon Lipkin (Lou Lubowitz) proves himself to be one of the funniest actors in British theatre. Not only does he have brilliantly judged comic delivery, but he also excels at physical comedy. And there’s not a puppet in sight! When he & Tate join forces in the latter stages of the show, we are taken to new levels of hilarity – their duet of ‘Sugar Daddy’ is a fine example. It feels like they are constantly egging each other on, attempting to make the other corpse, all the while making us laugh until our faces ache.
It is quite startling to think that these sort of events did take place (& the displays of patriotism really were that laughable), but nonetheless Miss Atomic Bomb is most definitely a fun night out. A show that pokes fun, whilst not taking itself at all seriously, is a very welcome addition to London’s theatre scene. This is definitely on my transfer list for 2016!
My verdict? A breath of fresh air in the world of new musicals – truly original, with a standout cast, catchy tunes and a tap routine to die for!