Miss Atomic Bomb – St James Theatre

★★★★

Review by Liz Dyer 

It’s a rare and wonderful thing these days to see a brand new musical – not a revival, not a musical based on a movie, but a shiny, original, fresh-out-the-box show. Not that Miss Atomic Bomb, which opened this week at St James Theatre, is that new; apparently it’s been in development for five years. And was it worth the wait? I think so…

Set in Las Vegas in 1952, Miss Atomic Bomb is the story of Candy Johnson (Florence Andrews), a farm girl forced to put her California dreams on hold when she discovers her beloved grandmother left her with a heap of debt. The only way to save her trailer from an increasingly deranged bailiff (Daniel Boys) is, obviously, to enlist the help of her best friend, aspiring fashion designer Myrna (Catherine Tate), and enter the Miss Atomic Bomb beauty pageant, an idea dreamed up by struggling hotel manager Lou Lubowitz (Simon Lipkin) to appease his angry gangster boss, with the help of his brother Joey (Dean John-Wilson), a deserter on the run from the US Army. And on top of all that, there’s a Communist spy on the loose and all the sheep have died of ‘malnutrition’.

A scene from Miss Atomic Bomb @ St James Theatre (Opening 14-03-16) ©Tristram Kenton 02/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

A scene from Miss Atomic Bomb @ St James Theatre
©Tristram Kenton 02/16
(3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355) email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

If this all sounds a bit chaotic and silly, that’s because it is. But the surreal plot is based firmly in reality; pageants like this really happened in the 50s, a time of intense anti-Communist paranoia, when the test detonation of an atomic bomb not only seemed like a good idea but something to be openly celebrated.

Chaotic silliness is always good fun, though, and Miss Atomic Bomb is certainly an enjoyable show. Writers Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long have produced a catchy score, with slick choreography from Bill Deamer. And if I’m still not 100% sure what point the show’s trying to make – besides the fact that atomic bombs are bad, and that we shouldn’t always believe everything the government tells us – I still left the theatre feeling thoroughly entertained.

A scene from Miss Atomic Bomb @ St James Theatre (Opening 14-03-16) ©Tristram Kenton 02/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

A scene from Miss Atomic Bomb @ St James Theatre
©Tristram Kenton 02/16
(3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355) email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Catherine Tate does what she does best as the hilariously over the top Myrna, and she’s matched on the comedy front by Simon Lipkin as hapless hotelier Lou; their duet in act 2 is a real crowd-pleaser. Daniel Boys also puts in a great performance as banker Mr Potts – a relatively minor role, but he certainly makes the most of it. Meanwhile Dean John-Wilson and Florence Andrews bring a bit of emotional heart, and great vocals, to the story… even if their entire romance is based on a five-minute encounter over a zucchini.

A scene from Miss Atomic Bomb @ St James Theatre (Opening 14-03-16) ©Tristram Kenton 02/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

A scene from Miss Atomic Bomb @ St James Theatre
©Tristram Kenton 02/16
(3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355) email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

The production, which is co-directed by Adam Long and Bill Deamer, makes efficient use of the fairly limited space at the St James Theatre, with cast members regularly spilling out on to the stairs when the stage gets too crowded. Ti Green’s panoramic video backdrop sets the scene, with some particularly dramatic shots of the Nevada desert – but perhaps the best effects are those we don’t see: the flash and roar of the atomic blast, as the cast gather in dark glasses to watch the sun rise twice above our heads.

Miss Atomic Bomb may not set the world alight (sorry, I couldn’t resist) but it’s a lot of fun, with some enjoyable performances, spectacular dance numbers and plenty of laughs – even if it does feel a bit odd to be chuckling over the glorification of a deadly weapon. Still, we wanted original, and on that score, this show definitely delivers.

Miss Atomic Bomb – St James Theatre

★★★★

Review by Liz Dyer

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