Review: Miss Atomic Bomb @ St James Theatre *****

Going into Miss Atomic Bomb, I had no idea what to expect. Literally. It was opening night of a brand new musical and all I had to go off of was a synopsis. It’s quite rare for me to see something and have pretty much no idea what’s going to happen. Which made this show all the more special, unique and somewhat bizarre!

UPDATE: Already as the other reviews come crawling in, I can see it’s getting a bit of a rough deal. Is it perfect? No. Is it the next Les Mis/Wicked or any other musical it pays tribute to? No. Is that a bad thing? No. Because it’s not trying to be any of those. What we have here is good, harmless fun, and I get the sense that Long, Vick and Jackson-Long are acutely aware that that’s what they offer. Sometimes it’s just nice to go and see a production which isn’t hard hitting-and-forcing-a-laboured-or-imposed-reading-or-point-or-shoving-dead-babies-down-your-throat-no-literally-did-you-see-Cleansed.

And that’s why I encourage you to go and see Miss Atomic Bomb. Because between dead babies and dead sheep, I know which one I’d pick.

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Dean John-Wilson as Joey, and Simon Lipkin as Lou. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

Set in Las Vegas, the show is based on the military atomic bomb tests in the 1950s and follows the (mis)adventures of Candy and Joey. One, a girl staying to raise enough money to save her granny’s trailer, the other a man running away from the army. The narrative is a tad predictable, though having said that it is inspired by a true story. What’s nice about it is there’s no real sense of jeopardy…which is somewhat ironic in a show about nuclear weapons! It’s just good fun! The script has some great one liners throughout and the characters are well fleshed, even the secondary ones including a bank clerk with a penchant for Les Miserables! It’s these nice little touches and heart felt scenes which make for a strong narrative here.

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Dean John-Wilson as Joey, and Florence Andrews as Candy. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

A bridge stands over the stage, serving little practical purpose but framing the piece quite well. The production incorporates multimedia with screens in the background flashing up different sets, transporting us from the desert to the trailer, night to day. Being opening night when I saw it, there were a few hiccups: mistimed gun shots and lighting cues, which the cast played off of to much hilarity.

The soundtrack to Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long’s new musical is an eclectic mix: Western numbers, mixed with tango, mixed with opera! Personally, I love this mix and it certainly makes for memorable hits. It’s been a week and in the back of my head I still have the mantra ‘where there’s sheep, there’s hope’. There are some stand out numbers lyrically, including ‘Run Away’ though the pacing to the reveal of their differences could be longer, and of course: the beard song. I won’t say any more…

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Florence Andrews as Candy, Daniel Boys as Mr Potts, and Catherine Tate as Myrna. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

Florence Andrews plays Candy, a rough and tough sweetheart. Her solo number was stunning and her chemistry with Dean John-Wilson is of nuclear proportion…get it! John-Wilson plays the lovable if hapless Joey, before heading off to play the lead role in Aladdin this summer. I can imagine he will be perfect in that role, so natural is his charisma and charm on stage. Simon Lipkin plays his onstage brother Lou and continues to transform in every role I see him in. Lipkin shows off his comedic side and plays it in spades; I’ve never seen someone dance tap dance on one foot, but he does it surprisingly convincingly! Without a doubt, his scenes with Catherine Tate are a highlight, who brings glam and guffaws to the production in her portrayal of would be fashion designer Myrna. Other honourable mentions go to Daniel Boys for his role as a Mr Potts, a part which could easily become a tertiary character, but to whom Boys brings life, character and comedy. It’s possibly my favourite character I’ve seen in a few years, in terms of writing and acting. Finally, kudos to co-writer Gabriel Vick who stepped in to play a number of roles at the last minute on opening night. So convincing was he that I didn’t know who the stand in was until the interval when I checked the programme!

 

Verdict: a fun new musical with heart and laughs, with gangsters, glimmer and gamma radiation!

Miss Atomic Bomb is playing until 9th April 2016 at the St James Theatre. For more information or to book tickets, visit the St James Theatre website.

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