Friday, 01 April 2016

MISS ATOMIC BOMB

It needs some work, but this quirky ‘Miss’, set during atomic testing in Vegas, pushes a lot of the right buttons

Written by Richard Barber
Richard-Barber-colour-176File this one under ‘U’ for Unclassifiable. It’s the musical tale of a beauty pageant in a failing Las Vegas hotel set against the backdrop of A-bomb tests in the Nevada desert. At its heart, there’s also a rather sweet love story about a simple country girl who falls for a deserting soldier. Oh, and a putative fashion designer with delusions of grandeur. Maybe ‘B’ for Bonkers might be nearer the mark.

But it’s hard to resist, because (a) its heart is in the right place, (b) it’s often laugh-out-loud funny, (c) Gabriel Vick’s songs are hummable, his lyrics witty, and (d) the likeable cast work their socks off. If it’s to transfer to a bigger house, though, it’s going to need some radical surgery to tighten the action and bring in proceedings in rather less than two-and-three-quarter hours.

So, all over the shop it may be, but it moves at a lick and there are some lovely performances. I hadn’t come across Florence Andrews before, but she taps into just the right tough and tender sensibilities as shepherdess Candy Johnson, a sort of latterday Calamity Jane, and, like Doris Day, she has a fine pair of lungs. Her act-two torch song, The Sun Went Down, would bring a tear to a glass eye.

She’s matched in terms of sweetness, both personally and vocally, by Dean John-Wilson as the GI on the run. It’s not hard to see why he’s been cast in the lead role in Disney’s Aladdin, which arrives at the Prince Edward Theatre in May.

Catherine Tate is the big name here, and she struggles a bit in the first act, partly because her accent ricochets between the Midwest and Melbourne, and partly because she’s given too little to do as fashion designer Myrna. But she comes into her own after the interval, and her duet with hotel manager Lou Lubowitz (Simon Lipkin) is worth the price of entry alone.

Neither of them are keen on marriage or, indeed, the opposite sex. Lou sings that he’ll be Myrna’s sugar daddy if she’ll be his beard, with Lipkin giving the performance of the night. Mind you, Daniel Boys as a demented insurance employee on a mission runs him a close second.

You could cut the pig-shaving scene in the first act (words I never imagined I’d have cause to write), you could drop the reprise of the opening number and you could take a red pencil to some of the script. That said, you could buy a Sauvignon Blanc at the well-run bar and have yourself really rather a good time.

Until 9 April at the St James Theatre, Palace Street, London SW1: 0844-264 2140, www.stjamestheatre.co.uk



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