It’s 1952 and the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas has just started it’s sparkle. Here we find ineffective hotel manager Lou Loubowitz (Simon Lipkin), promoted due to some heavy handed ‘mob management’, struggling to find a way to bring in customers and cash to his failing hotel the ‘Golden Goose’. When he hits apon the idea of hitching the all American beauty contest to the local desert testing of nuclear bombs to create the ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ pageant.
Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long hit upon the neat idea of turning the absurd notion of a beauty pageant based apon a nuclear test into a musical but this is where the neatness ends. There is so much going on, so many threads that no one story was really allowed to fully develop. As well as the failing hotel and the mob threats, there is the recently AWOL from the army and Lou’s younger brother, Joey Lubowitz (Dean John-Wilson), inexplicable best friends Sheep farmer Candy Johnson (Florence Andrews) and clothes designer Myrna Ranapapadophilou’s (Catherine Tate) dream to travel to California together thwarted by Candy’s recently deceased grandmother having gambled away her inheritance, dying sheep and loss of livelihoods due to radiation fall out, a hidden communist selling secrets to Russia, a tormented savings and loan employee Mr Potts (Daniel Boys), as well as the burgeoning relationship between Joey and Candy to name but a few, all before we get to the aforementioned beauty pageant of the title.
I hate to say it but it wasn’t until half way through act one that I realised ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ was supposed to be a parody. There were laugh out loud moments, and some cute and subtle referencing of other musicals (the Mr Potts / Javert comparisons are nicely done) but some jokes just didn’t hit the mark.
There were romantic duets sung directly out to the audience which read as awkward rather than ironic and also a lot of action taking place solely at the centre or side of the stage with far too much walking in, standing/sitting, singing/acting then exiting, leaving the rest of the stage woefully underused.
There were some standout moments; some well observed comedy from ‘mad scientist’ Professor Alvin Schmul (Stephane Anelli), the cheeky opening of act two number ‘Cold War’ was well pitched, as well as the amusing ‘losing ladies’ of the pageant played by Suzie McAdam, Jessica Buckby and Charles Brunton (nods to ‘Gypsy’, ‘Sweet Charity’ and ‘The Producers’ here). I really enjoyed the number between Myrna and Lou towards the end of act two ‘Sugar Daddy’ but the character revelation (in terms of Loubowitz) came completely out of leftfield and jarred.
The music was solid, but not particularly memorable and did not always provide the necessary function of forwarding character or plot.
The minimal set with large projections on the back wall were really good, but did nothing to enforce the parody aspect of the piece and the lovely ‘Atomic’ looking staircase was underused.
I think with more development ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ could be a real firecracker but as it stands, it fails to explode.
Reviewed by Byron Butler
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Miss Atomic Bomb plays at the St. James Theatre until 9th April