“Welcome to Las Vegas in 1952, where every mushroom cloud has a silver lining and fallout is your friend.”
If you take a trip to London’s West End for an evening of theatre, chances are most of the shows you stumble across will be either classics and revivals (Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis), or jukebox shows (Jersey Boys, Beautiful, Thriller…the list goes on). Despite the likes of Book of Mormon, Matilda The Musical and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory becoming popular with UK audiences, it’s quite rare that a new, original British musical not based on a previous book/film breaks any ground in the West End Scene. That is, until Miss Atomic Bomb came along.
It hasn’t exactly blown up (yep, went there) amongst the critics, with plenty of lukewarm and some downright negative responses to Bill Deamer and Adam Long’s musical comedy. From the opening songs, I didn’t have the strongest hope for the show – opening with a cheese-filled, glitzy number introducing the audience to the setting of 1950s Las Vegas, named “The Atomic City” as the US army test their nuclear bombs in the nearby desert. However, as the evening went on, I found myself getting more invested in the plot, pastiche and raw potential of this fledgling show.
Playing fashion designer Myrna (I won’t reveal her surname, which is one of the chuckle-inducing moments later on), Miss Atomic Bomb’s ‘star’ name comes in the form of comedian and actress Catherine Tate. Although she delivers some great comic timing and proves her vocal ability, her American accent falls off the wagon plenty – as has been mentioned in many a review, it regularly slips into something that sounds more Aussie than Utah girl.
However, there’s plenty of good amongst the bad with casting – Florence Andrews demonstrates impressive, heartwarming vocals as farm girl Candy Johnson. Along with her love interest and army deserter Joey (Dean John-Wilson, star of the upcoming Aladdin musical), they play out a pretty convincing love story – although it does get a little TOO saccharine at times. Simon Ladkin takes a great turn as Joey’s brother and mob target, Golden Goose hotel owner Lou. His physical comedy after being shot in both feet is great, and there’s a great number between Ladkin and Tate in the second half.
Speaking of the second half, it seems much stronger than the first, with more large cast numbers, more comic moments and a full-throttle, entertaining performance from Daniel Boys as a law-abiding banker with major childhood loner issues. As the ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ pageant approaches, there are some fun scenes and catchy songs. The audience reaction seemed positive too – with lots of laughter and rapturous applause at the end. It may not be going down too well with critics but the audience were definitely having a ‘blast’ (…).
Despite its flaws, Miss Atomic Bomb shows a cast willing to give their all on the stage – generally, their enthusiasm and talent really does shine, despite the rawness of the writing at times, patches of shaky dialogue and a few tunes that miss the mark (apparently, where there’s sheep, there’s hope…hmm). Oh, and you can pick up a special Miss Atomic Bomb cocktail in the interval, which is a pretty sweet touch.
I do feel a bit like this one’s a diamond in the rough – with some tweaks and perhaps some slightly brutal cutting, it feels like Miss Atomic Bomb does have potential to be popular with audiences. And if nothing else, the team should be applauded for trying to do something original and different in the London theatre scene – something that definitely needs to be encouraged and supported by audiences and critics alike.
Miss Atomic Bomb runs at St James’ Theatre until the 9th April – tickets priced from £15-£50 available here.
Press images (c) Tristram Kenton
I won my tickets as a prize from the Guardian, with no pressure to review – but y’all knew I would anyway…