Miss Atomic Bomb continues at St James Theatre, London until 9 April.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Hurrah! A new British musical and one that is original. It’s not been adapted from a classic novel nor does it rely on music hall knees-ups. Its originality derives from the British sense of wackiness and love of inspired lunacy. How else could you take the subject of nuclear testing in the Nevada desert and turn it into an evening of exhilarating fun.
Miss Atomic Bomb is set in Las Vegas – self proclaimed Atomic City USA -– during the early 1950s when tourists were encouraged to come to the cash-strapped city with the opportunity to see the nuclear cloud in the pre-dawn hours as it lit up the sky. Being the USA there had to be razzmatazz – ‘atomic cocktails’ were drunk; women sported mushroom cloud hairdos and, of course, beauty pageants were organised to crown Miss Atomic Bomb.
On-lookers were provided with dark glasses for the viewing but the radiation risks (levels were as high as Chernobyl in 1986) were played down by the military and the scientists. Soldiers were ordered to simulate battlefield conditions by marching towards ground zero with their hands over their eyes. When the wool fell off the backs of sheep and large numbers of lambs were stillborn, farmers were told that this was due to “mismanagement, malnutrition and possibly poisonous plants on their land”. Cue for ‘Where There’s Sheep There’s Hope’ and ‘Sheep Lament’.
From this wealth of information writers, Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long have written a fun-packed show with plenty of endearing ballads and comic numbers. Musical direction from Richard John.
Joey Lubowitz, a GI on the run after refusing to walk towards the explosion, encounters Candy, a sheep herder, who along with her best friend, Myrna dreams of moving to a better life.
Their hopes are encapsulated in the plaintiff country and western styled number ‘California’. Candy hides Joey from the military until he can get to Vegas where his brother manages a simple hotel trying to compete with the bigger ones who are capitalising on the tests and adopting ‘atomic’ gimmicks.
Under threat from the Jewish mafia who are looking for a return on their investment, the brothers come up with the idea of a Miss Atomic Bomb pageant. Having fallen for and knowing Candy to be in desperate need of money to save her home from being reprocessed, Joey persuades her to take part in the contest. All manner of trials and tribulations ensue before a happy conclusion can be reached.
With Bill Deamer at the helm as co-director (along with Adam Long), choreography expectations are high and, happily, they are met from the explosive opening number. ‘Atomic City USA’ launches the show with one of (many) Deamer’s trademark high-energy dance routines.
There are quality performances throughout. Dean John-Wilson and Simon Lipkin excel as the brothers. John-Wilson is on top form with the fine ballads – ‘I’ll Stay With You’ and ‘How Beautiful You Are’ while Lipkin is hilarious in a tap dance routine, just after having his foot shot by a mafia hood.
Florence Andrews has a delightful singing voice and is truly endearing as Candy emerges from a tomboy into a pretty young lady. As one would expect, there is plenty of comedy from Catherine Tate’s Myrna, a would-be fashion designer with dreams of being famous and opening a chain of boutiques. A couple of Tate’s comic creations lurk beneath her characterisation to which the audience warmly respond when they occasionally surface. She gets to shine in ‘Myrna’s Song’ and when she duets with Lipkin in the very funny ‘Sugar Daddy’.
As the un-loved repossession man, Daniel Boys gets to lead the company in an in-joke that pays homage to Les Misérables.
As one brought up on a diet of the Goons, Spike Milligan and the Pythons, this wacky show certainly tickled my ribs as well as the rest of the audience who gave it a rousing ovation.