The Theatreguide.London Review
St James Theatre Spring 2016
This is a brand-new musical that is set in the 1950s and feels like it was written in the 1930s.
It is fast-moving and lightly entertaining if you don't expect too much, but it is ultimately too derivative, formulaic and by-the-numbers to satisfy.
Watching Miss Atomic Bomb, I kept being reminded of Anything Goes, the 1934 musical that went through so many last-minute rewrites that the plot made little sense and half the characters were left over from earlier versions of the script.
Of course Anything Goes had a Cole Porter score and Ethel Merman. Miss Atomic Bomb's credits read like an overlapping list: written by Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long, songs evidently mainly by Vick though he's not separately credited, directed by Long and Bill Deamer, choreographed by Deamer.
The result is as much a jumble as if each of these talented creators had been working in separate rooms and just pasted all their stuff together.
Historical fact: in the 1950s some of America's early atomic bomb tests were in the Nevada desert, close enough to Las Vegas for the tourist city to hold bomb-watching parties, serve atomic cocktails and generally treat the bombs as entertainment and profit sources.
For the purposes of this musical the manager of a failing Vegas hotel comes up with the idea of a beauty contest to coincide with the next bomb test.
Mix in, in no particular order, a pretty farm girl, an AWOL soldier, a wannabe fashion designer with more ambition than taste, a Russian spy, a rapacious banker, some trigger-happy gangsters, someone disguised as a rabbi, a U S Senator, some bedraggled showgirls, a gung-ho army general, and some dead sheep.
Some of it is funny, some is a bit desperate, and very little of it makes sense. But in the 1930s style the plot and characters are really just there to fill in the inescapable gaps between songs as amusingly and distractingly as possible, without having to make much sense.
And the formula can work almost a century later, as revivals of Anything Goes and other 1930s musicals have shown. But the songs really have to be Cole Porter level, the production sprightly and inventive, and the whole done with an unerring sense of style, wit and even a bit of camp.
Miss Atomic Bomb never rises much above the level of O K, and not always that high.
A couple of the early songs – Where There's Sheep There's Hope and Fallout Is Your Friend – show some promise of wit that's never really matched again. There's an open rip-off of You Gotta Have A Gimmick from Gypsy and, even more oddly, a number evoking Les Miserables, while the direction and choreography keep thing moving but never generate much excitement.
As is almost part of the formula, the romantic couple – Florence Andrews and Dean John-Wilson – sing prettily but are bland to the point of near-invisibility, and much of the vitality of the show and all its comedy are carried by the secondary couple played with energy and wit by Catherine Tate and Simon Lipkin.
In the 1930s, the equivalent of this London premiere would have been a pre-Broadway out-of-town tryout leading to a lot of rewriting, restaging and recasting.
The same process might very well polish and improve Miss Atomic Bomb to the point of success. Right now it is a little too rough, uneven and unoriginal.
(Oh, and a note to the designer: a mock patriotic number features a film of a giant American flag. It's a post-1959 fifty-star flag, seven years too early.)
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Review - Miss Atomic Bomb - St James Theatre 2016