West End Theatre Guide London
Miss Atomic Bomb is a new musical comedy created by Gabriel Vick, Alex Jackson-Long and Adam Long which is making its world premiere at London’s St James Theatre.
It is set in the early-1950s, in “Atomic City USA”, Las Vegas. Truman, who had agreed to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was still in the White House, and the US was at war in Korea. It was the time of the Cold War, when “Red Menace” paranoia reigned and there was profound uncertainty about what the next day might bring and “Apocalypse” was everyday vernacular. There was a dread of nuclear war, and yet also a patriotic fervour and delight over preparations for it.
Nuclear testing was taking place in the Nevada Desert around 50 miles from Las Vegas. The Government ran a PR campaign to convince people that the bombs were not only safe but fun. In true Las Vegas style, it capitalised on the situation: its Chamber of Commerce printed calendars advertising detonation times and the best viewing spots; hotels advertised their rooms based on the best views of the explosions. The blasts would light up the sky, turning night into day, and the brightness of the flash led some to say that “The sun rose twice” that morning. Las Vegas’ population more than doubled during the time, and the military employed around 10,000, a boon to the city’s economy. People as far away as Utah reported animals dying, but no one in the city seemed to notice or care and it seemed the party would go on forever. The 1963 Limited Test Ban finally put a stop to all above-ground nuclear testing.
Inspired by the bomb tests and beauty pageants of the time, this stunning new musical is set in those times, when people threw all-night parties in sight of the mushroom clouds, and Las Vegas was the tourist destination with its very own nuclear firework show. The city’s acceptance, and indeed welcome, of the testing even went as far as glamour pageantry, in a search of a beauty queen to represent the American dream and become “Miss Atomic Bomb”.
Candy Johnson is a young sheep farmer in the Nevada desert, but because her sheep are “mysteriously” dying, she plans to travel to California with Myrna Ranapapadophilou, self-proclaimed fashion queen. However, these plans are soon trampled by Mr Potts, a banker, who reveals their beloved grandmother had debts and he wants to repossess their trailer. The girls take the trailer, and head off to Las Vegas, hoping to earn the money to repay the debts by entering a beauty contest.
Lou Lubowitz is the newly-appointed manager of the Golden Goose Hotel (after the previous manager’s stint was abruptly “terminated”) who is under pressure from his now bosses to turn around the failing business. Together with his brother, army runaway Joey, he comes up with a plan to hold a beauty pageant where the winning lady will be crowned “Miss Atomic Bomb”. People flock to the hotel and the question on everyone’s lips is: who will be Miss Atomic Bomb?
Florence Andrews (Once, Wicked, Dandy Dick) played Candy Johnson. Andrews is fantastic in the role and sang ‘California’ with great power, conveying the young dreamer’s hopes and ambitions. Candy is transformed into a beauty pageant contestant from sheep farmer, but she never loses her country roots and is one of the few people to question what the government officials and scientists are telling the public about the testing.
Catherine Tate (Doctor Who (TV), The Vote, Assassins) played neurotic fashion-guru Myrna Ranapapadophilou. In contrast to Candy, Myrna is out of place in the country because she isn’t cut out for farming. Tate is excellent in the role and performs a hysterical number called ‘Sugardaddy’ with hotel manager, Lou, where the two decide to realise their dreams together.
Lou Lubowitz is played by Simon Lipkin (The Lorax, Assassins, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change). Lipkin is comic genius as Lou, with really strong vocals and also some great tap-dancing – he performs ‘That Girl (is Miss Atomic Bomb)’ with great showmanship.
Dean John-Wilson (Songs For A New World, Here Lies, From Here To Eternity) played Joey Lubowitz, and makes his deserting soldier character likeable and sympathetic. John-Wilson gives an emotional performance of ‘I’ll Stay With You’ when Joey decides to stand with his brother rather than running away which he has done all of his life.
Mr Potts, the cunning banker, is played by Daniel Boys (Little Shop of Horrors, Love Story, Spamalot). He is hysterically funny as he proudly states Candy Johnson’s trailer will be his and then she will be locked up for a very, very long time.
All of the rest of the cast were outstanding, including: Stephane Anelli (Saturday Night Fever, Sinatra, Fiddler on the Roof) as Professor Alvin Schmol who continues to vouch for the atom bomb even though it is producing some unforeseen side effects to those in the ‘blast’ zone, singing ‘Fallout’; Sion Lloyd (The Bodyguard, The Pajama Game, Avenue Q) as Sergeant Flint and Boo Boo; and Olivia Fines (Singin’ in the Rain, The Producers, Grease) as Sharon, one of the Miss Atomic Bomb contestants.
Miss Atomic Bomb is a phenomenal new satirical comedy musical with a lot of potential to be a great success. The musical numbers are really strong, a mix of jazz, rock n roll and country music, and there are brilliantly choreographed dance numbers by Bill Deamer (who also co-directed with Adam Long). The show exaggerates American pride and patriotism to comic effect, making a caricature out of devilish bankers and wayward, righteous army officials. Unbelievably, what should have been devastating to the city’s tourism actually put it on the map.
So, who will be Miss Atomic Bomb?! Everyone buy a ticket and head to the St James Theatre to find out!