St James Theatre | ★★★☆☆
Miss Atomic Bomb has suffered from theatre critics’ love of mean-spirited puns, with some suggesting it failed to detonate and others, less inventively, just saying it bombed. These assessments are overly harsh; though nobody would call it a blast, there’s a critical mass of enjoyable material here, such that after it delivers its final payload, audience members will fallout of the theatre with a warm glow.
Set in Las Vegas in 1952, Miss Atomic Bomb is an uneven but loving pastiche of Golden Age Broadway musicals. Covering nuclear testing, an AWOL soldier, gangsters, espionage and sheep farming, the homage sometimes dips into parody, although a more serious failing is the lack of any truly memorable tunes.
But there are numbers that are a lot of fun, in particular Cold War, which is a great piece of ex post facto satire, and the retro-futuristic anthem Fallout is Your Friend.
The romantic leads are excellent singers; Florence Andrews belts out country ballads and Dean John-Wilson sounds like a Disney prince (which is great news, as he will be playing the title-role in the stage production of Aladdin, starting in May).
Simon Lipkin is an excellent comic presence as a hapless casino manager trying to arrange a beauty contest and avoid being killed by the mob, while antagonists Daniel Boys (a Javert-ish banker), Stephane Anelli (a lascivious physicist), and Olivia Fines (a scheming hooker), are all pleasingly dislikable.
The supporting cast exhibit a flair for physical comedy, extracting belly laughs from jokes which objectively only merit titters. The weakest performer, by some margin, is marquee player Catherine Tate as would-be fashion designer Myrna Ranapapadophilou.
She seems to have modelled the character on Christopher Green’s faux country singer Tina C, but she can’t maintain her exaggerated accent, and her grating television persona makes intermittent, unwelcome intrusions.
On the technical front, Miss Atomic Bomb is largely successful. The cast is miked, so their voices carry; the set is simple, with animated backdrops projected onto a curved wall making the diminutive St James Theatre feel considerably larger than it is; the sheer razzmatazz of the small chorus line similarly leaves the impression that the show is bigger than it really is, although the effect is punctured somewhat by the fact that you can see into the wings as characters enter and exit.
It isn’t as polished as you might expect from a West End extravaganza, but all things considered it’s still a good night out.