Miss Atomic Bomb
by Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long
Having A Blast
It's a great strange story for a musical - or a play or a movie. During the 1950s' Cold War, Las Vegas and the state of Nevada turned atomic bomb testing into a commercial golden goose.
Before the public knew the dangers of radiation fallout, tourists flocked not only to gamble but also to grandstand the nuclear mushroom clouds. And the burghers of Las Vegas invented a beauty pageant< Miss Atomic, roping in radiant (geddit?!) Las Vegas showgirls photographed in a fetching range of A-bomb inspired swimwear.
A strong story - and TLT and her atomically charged little motor thought they could detect a visceral and more complex history lurking beneath the muddled but slickly-performed piece that is Miss Atomic Bomb.
The story of this new musical from Adam Long (also co-director), composer Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long is roughly (very rough) this (deep breath):
Farm girl Candy (a hillbilly country and western Florence Andrews, Dolly Parton with a touch of Doris Day) from Utah but a Californian wannabe, threatened with losing her trailer home to bank administrator Mr Potts (Daniel Boys in suited and booted evil form) after her grandmomma's death, is persuaded by small-town sophisticate chain-smoking best friend fashion designer Myrna (Catherine Tate) to compete for Miss Atomic Bomb prize money to clear the mortgage.
Meanwhile Joey Lubowitz (soon-to-be Aladdin Dean John-Wilson), conscripted during the Korean War draft, goes AWOL and deserts the army in the desert (no, that's not a line from a song but a TLT excruciating pun!), running away to Las Vegas. Where his brother Lou (Simon Lipkin making the most of his role) runs a hotel but is threatened by Brooklyn mobsters.
And a mad professor (Stephane Anelli in fine animation adversary fettle) with his own secrets is also paperclipped on to the plot.
Between the foreclosure on the trailer and the crowning of the new Miss Atomic Bomb, there's a series of skits and turns involving the army, the showgirls - and a Hasidic rabbi disguise. Because Lou meant to order in a rabbit costume for Easter but instead ... Yeah, one joke which maybe should have been passed over ...
Adam Long is, according to Wikipedia, a founding member of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and it does feel like a homage gallop through various musicals, plays, styles and issues instead of trusting to the strength of the real story and growing the themes from that tale.
So, to take a more obscure example, we thought we got a hint of the first musical version of a Bernard Shaw play, The Chocolate Soldier, adapted from Arms And The Man, but the fleeing soldier is given a different label of ... well, we won't spoil the gag but a vegetable without rhyme or reason is involved.
There are also references to or pastiches of the opus of Jerry Herman, Babe the sheep-pig, Priscilla Desert Queen (mind you, Australia has its own nuclear test scandal), The Producers, Gypsy and maybe Calamity Jane, the play Angels In America, Dr Strangelove, The Desert Song and Beautiful.
In a small fringe venue or at the Edinburgh Festival,, this cartoonish revue could have been a hit but marketed as a bankable fully fledged musical, it doesn't feel at ease. Still it's never boring. There's serviceable hoofing (choreography by co-director Bill Deamer) and a few of the songs have wit in both form and content.
And, above all, there's a classy cast of performers who give their all with nuclear gusto.
The projections from Jack Henry James transform the production with desert vistas. A harder edged and more intriguing story does occasionally peep through as when the showgirls come pageant contestants plaster on the smiles and belt out "vote for me".
So with a green for the performances and red/amber for the story, it just about scrapes through into a glowing radioactive amber light.
Oh, and if anyone knows the whereabouts of the real 1952 Miss Atomic Bomb, Lee Merlin, as photographed by Las Vegas snapper Don English, there are people who really wanna know with a possible movie in the offing ....