With so many jukebox musicals and adaptations in the West End, it’s always nice to champion a new musical, and a totally British original at that. Sadly, one can’t claim Miss Atomic Bomb is a bright new kid on the block.
Set in Nevada at the height of the Cold War, it shows how Las Vegas tapped into American jingoism and Commies-under-the-bed paranoia thrown up by the testing of atomic bombs in the desert a few miles away. Rather than recognise the blasts as a warning of impending mass destruction, Vegas proclaimed itself “Atomic City USA” and cashed in on the tourists who flocked there to watch the tests. There were parties, special mushroom cloud hairdos and cocktails, and beauty pageants were held to find a swimsuit-clad lovely they could christen Miss Atomic Bomb.
Dean John-Wilson and Simon Lipkin in Miss Atomic Bomb
Mechanic and farm girl Candy Johnson (Florence Andrews) dreams of a better life in California, but is also on the run – along with her friend Myrna (Catherine Tate) – from an avaricious banker (Daniel Boys) because of unpaid debts.
Throw in subplots about a deserter from the army (Dean John-Wilson) and a hotel manager (Simon Lipkin) in hock to the Mob, and you have a show that starts promisingly but overstays its welcome and ultimately degenerates into shouting and mugging.
The satire on fallout and the effects of radiation is obvious, but adds some genuinely witty lyrics to a score that’s a mash-up of 50s pop, country and western and traditional show tunes. It’s unclear whether the pastiches of Jesus Christ Superstar and Les Miserables were intentional, but a ditty by three beauty pageant entrants was a complete rip-off of the stripper song from Gypsy.
The cast work their socks off, but Andrews doesn’t totally convince as the feisty Candy, while the usually impeccable Catherine Tate has an accent that wavers all over the place. Her comic timing never deserts her, though, and her scenes with the hilarious Simon Lipkin provide the funniest moments.
Apparently Miss Atomic Bomb has been in development for five years and yet it still feels like it’s not quite ready to be put in front of an audience. Somewhere in there is a half-decent musical, but it needs some ruthless cutting to bring it to the fore.
Miss Atomic Bomb is at the St James Theatre until 9th April
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