Catherine Tate and Simon Lipkin. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
Miss Atomic Bomb is the latest musical offering at St. James Theatre, and while it has had predominantly nuclear reviews in the national press this week, don't let that dissuade you from watching this new piece of British theatre writing. It has all the elements for a good old-fashioned musical; a story rooted in reality but heightened for theatrical flair, over-the-top comedic moments, showstopping group numbers (jazz hands and all), and an incredibly talented cast. This show is an absolute blast.
The musical is the brainchild of writing trio Gabriel Vick, Adam Long and Alex Johnson-Long, and it's so crazy that you cannot make it up (and that's what makes it so good). Set amid the height of the nuclear tests in 1950s America, Las Vegas isn't yet the slick and excessive city we know it as today. It was a struggle for the businesses to lure tourists to their hotels and convince the cash-strapped visitors to spend their money, and so some local brains conjured up the idea for viewing parties to watch the nuclear clouds in the nearby desert and they even organised themed soirees with atomic cocktails, and eventually a beauty pageant to crown Miss Atomic Bomb.
Meanwhile the fall-out from the test site is affecting the local animal life and vegetation, but the residents are so convinced that the atomic bombs are a good thing for America that they believe the army when they're told that it's just a coincidence that the farm animals are all dying around the same time of malnutrition. The 1950s may have been simpler times, and I suppose people were desperate to believe in the all American dream so soon after the end of the second world war, but it does seem a little far-fetched to say that everyone believed the atomic bombs were a good thing. And yet they did.
In the show it's local hotel manager Lou Lubowitz (Simon Lipkin) and his younger brother Joey (Dean John-Wilson), that in a desperate attempt to save the hotel (and Lou's life, as the hotel owner has a trigger-happy associate ready to pop the next manager unable to turn a profit) that come up with the idea of organising the Miss Atomic Bomb beauty pageant. And it's sheep farmer Candy Johnson (Florence Andrews) that enters with the help of her fashion-obsessed friend Myrna Ranapapdophilou (Catherine Tate). Throw in the Italian mob, US Army, a Russian spy, and a cross-dressing pageant contestant and you've got all the ingredients for a fun, if somewhat cheesy and at times wacky, musical.
While the story might be a bit out there (though not any more so than an operatic phantom or a group of singing cats), it was the cast that made this a truly fantastic show – especially the main four. I've nothing but admired Simon Lipkin, from Rock of Ages to The Lorax, and even in I Can't Sing he made sitting through it worth while, so it was a delight to see him reunited with his Assassins co-star, Catherine Tate. Their duet in the second act, Sugar Daddy, was as hilarious as it was absurd and was the undeniable highlight of the evening. Dean John-Wilson was all charm and with every sweet song he sang I could already hear hints of Disney's Aladdin, the role he will take on straight after this one. Florence Andrews though, was the star, putting the other also very capable actors on stage to shame with her powerful performance and voice, especially in her showstopping solo towards the end.
And there were other memorable songs too, from the Act One Finale to the (almost) titular Who Will Be Miss Atomic Bomb. With razzmatazz showgirls, jazz hands and even a tap dance moment or two, at times this musical was reminiscent of those that delighted audiences during the golden age of musical theatre, except just a little bit crazier and outrageously American. Miss Atomic Bomb can use some polishing and tightening up, but for a brand-new piece of British writing this is a musical that is already in very good shape. Explosive it may not be, but I sure had a blast watching it.
Miss Atomic Bomb is playing at St. James Theatre and taking bookings until 9 April 2016. Book your tickets here.