Miss Atomic Bomb at St James Theatre
Based on true-life beauty pageants created in Las Vegas to celebrate atomic bomb testing. Miss Atomic Bomb does not know what to do with its rich and potentially fascinating historic material. Whilst it is funny and enjoyable, the play’s full potential is not detonated.
It has pizzazz, but not the scale of classic West End musicals like Les Mis. Choreographer Bill Deamer makes use of the small stage and cast, but at times it feels as though it craves scale and extravagance, which leaves the audience feeling as though they are missing out. The numbers are performed well but lack depth and originality: Candy and Myrna’s odes to California sound like parodies of Joni Mitchell mixed with classic country ditties. The production is also replete with Golden Age numbers and parodies of classic musicals; songs try too hard to be funny: rhymes are over-worked and lyrics unimpressive (“To stare too long would be unwise! She will incinerate your eyes!”).
The comically subversive and farcical first act degenerates into a clichéd and predictable second, which follows the classic Cinderella plot. It could have exploited the macabre subject matter, but its adherence to a fairytale ending is boring and perhaps also inappropriate, given the subject matter. Despite actors’ best efforts to engage with the audience, the characters remain cartoonish: there are wacky scientists, Hicksville sheep farmers, truculent military officers and vain showgirls. Catherine Tate is hilarious as the fashion-obsessed Myrna, despite the occasional lapse into an Australian accent, but this could be interpreted as a sly subversion of her prescribed stereotype. She is the only actor who gives some original flare to her character. Florence Andrews is entertaining as Candy but falls into the trap of parody.
There is always a first for everything and new musicals should not be discouraged. What Miss Atomic Bomb needs is to break away from the mould of pre-existing shows and create something utterly new. It has the capacity to be spectacular, it has just fallen short this time.
Miss Atomic Bomb is on at St James Theatre from 7th March until 9th April 2016. Book your tickets here.