Friday 18 March 2016

Miss Atomic Bomb - Review

St James Theatre, London


Written by Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long
Co directed by Bill Deamer and Adam Long

Olivia Fines with Stephane Anelli

Miss Atomic Bomb blasts onto the St James stage with a visually impressive bang. In a show that's a chain reaction of spectacular dance work (including some delicious tap routines), choreographer Bill Deamer's fingerprints (or rather footprints) are everywhere. Deamer, who also co-directs, has a consummate understanding of the spectacular and the dancing here is amongst the best in town. 

The show demands a heavily stylised treatment, set in and around Las Vegas in the 1950s against the backdrop of the Cold War and in a time when atomic bomb tests in the region were not only frequent, they were a source of national pride. Thousands flocked to Vegas to witness the mushroom clouds from only a few miles away, ignorantly unaware of the fallout risk. Seeking to draw the crowds, the musical’s story focusses upon the Golden Goose Hotel that comes up with the idea of a Miss Atomic Bomb beauty contest as an attraction and so it unfolds.

As a historic reference point the show offers some value. There are nods to the fervent patriotism of the time, the all-powerful military, the nation's underlying ignorance, along with a McCarthyist response to the fear of Communism and Un-American activities. But whilst the show's style, for the most part, is as cleverly clich├ęd as a Lichtenstein cartoon, its book struggles. The plot lines are far-fetched and its endgame is just garbled. Which is a shame - because the talent on stage here is well cast and sensational.

Simon Lipkin is on top form as Lou Lubowitz the hotel manager. Lipkin only knows excellent and his neurotic/opportunistic pastiche is spot on with voice, dance and movement a delight throughout. Likewise Catherine Tate as Myrna a curious Greek fashion designer with an attitude. Tate does dumb America brilliantly - though having shone in Assassins last year (as did Lipkin), the show’s muddled book doesn't help either character.

Dean-John Wilson and Florence Andrews pick up the two other leads as Joey (Lou’s brother), a deserting soldier and Candy Johnson, a farm girl, respectively. Both are flawless and one can eagerly look forward to WIlson's Aladdin later this year. He pulls off the curious burden of pretending to be a rabbi for most of the second half, though his reflective duet with Lipkin, I’ll Stay With You offers the best of a mediocre bunch of ballads. Andrew’s character maybe trailer trash, but her feisty cowgirl commands the stage.

There's a curious cameo from Daniel Boys as a Javert-inspired repo-man out to take back Candy’s trailer. Boy can Boys sing, but as his role descends into little more than a Les Mis meta-dig it all gets just a bit too silly. Come the contest itself, Olivia Fines' Monroe-esque Sharon is a dancing celebration of the Stars and Stripes whilst Jessica Buckby's Norwegian (don't ask) Tregunta also wows with her movement.

This ain't the RSC's Oppenheimer - which last year stunned the theatre world with its fusion of nuclear horror and artistic genius, nor do the writers have the surgical skills of Kander and Ebb in dissecting some of humanity's ghastlier aspects and re-arranging them into a musical. There's work to be done here - the first half is too long, the second too crude (an election/erection gag? Really??) and the classy projected backdrops irritatingly melt under the brilliant beams of the follow spots. 

However, at the core of Miss Atomic Bomb is potentially something rather fine. Go see it for its top-notch company, Ti Green's wicked costumes, Richard Mawbey's fabulous wigs and above all Deamer's dazzling dance. It's a fun night out.

Runs until 9th April
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

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