While he admittedly had the entire weight of the United States military industrial complex behind him, J Robert Oppenheimer developed the atom bomb in a fairly snappy three years.
That’s less than the gestation period of the average musical – because musicals are complicated beasts that require painstaking levels of workshopping and investment to get them ready for the West End or Broadway. At which point most of them flop anyway.
I’m sure lots of time and love has gone into Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long’s ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’. But it would seem to highlight the exact problem with making a new musical quickly, without vast sums of cash, to run in a mid-sized venue for one month only. A decent cast and some good jokes aren’t enough to make this tonally uneven, cheap-looking show blow up.
‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ has an intriguingly lurid premise. It’s a comedy set in the early ’50s at the dawning of the atomic age, when crowds would gather in the Nevada desert to gaze in awe at the bomb tests, transfixed by both their beauty (harmless, so long as you stayed a couple of miles away, they were assured) and also the demonstration of America’s sheer might. Meanwhile the rapidly expanding city of Las Vegas was awash with kitschy atom bomb fever – including, here, the titular beauty pageant.
But Long and Bill Deamer’s production doesn’t really know what it wants to do with the premise. It’s kind of a pastiche Bing Crosby/Bob Hope-ish comedy about two brothers – ‘weird’ hotelier Lou (Simon Lipkin) and army deserter Joey (Dean John-Wilson) – who become entangled with two sassy women – oddball clothes designer Myrna (Catherine Tate) and her tomboy BFF Candy (Florence Andrews). But it’s also got a clashing modern streak – it’s full of crude, even violent humour, random postmodern commentary and knowing attempts to send up musical tropes. Meanwhile the songs are blandly pleasant in a way that stands at odds with the show’s aspirations to edginess.
The cast are game, there are some funny lines and Tate racks up some laughs, but it’s a mess, really, an ill-matched series of gags reeled off on a cheap, barren set that does little to generate any sense of time and place. With major reworking this could maybe work, but for now ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ is a very damp squib.