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New musical Miss Atomic Bomb is now in previews at the St James Theatre in Victoria, central London. Featuring a truly original story, brand new score and an incredible cast, we're confident that this is set to be one of the most exciting new shows of 2016.
After attending an exclusive rehearsal of the show, we sat down with some of the leading cast members to talk about the experience of bringing a brand new musical to the stage.
DOH: Daniel, you've had a fantastic West End career. What makes Miss Atomic Bomb special for you?
DB: Obviously it's very exciting. I think this is the first time that I've actually created a character, which is something I've always wanted to do! My character is kind of the baddie of the piece and he thinks he's Javert. It's a small, fun cameo role. His name is Mr Potts – at the beginning of the show you see him evicting Candy, so my journey across the show is chasing her across the desert to get the money of her. I'm not particularly nice, but I have a nice ending! I don't have a big number of my own, but I keep jumping into scenes, having an operatic moment and then just leaving...
DOH: How did you get involved with the production?
DB: I knew nothing about the show and I got a call from my agent last year and I read the script and thought it was very funny, so I went along to meet the team and audition. It's always very scary wiTh a new show because you don't know how it's going to go down – and that's what I love about it! We all think it's funny, but you never know what an audience is going to think, and that's what makes it exciting.
DOH: Is it more challenging originating a new role rather than approaching a character people already know?
DB: It's challenging especially when something is co-directed. Adam Long actually wrote the piece, and it's brilliant to have him there as a writer because you can ask him questions about the characters and he's been brilliant in saying well, we may have written your character like this but we really love what you're doing with it, so you do get some freedom to put your own stamp on it. What is good is that you've never seen it in play before, even if you're in a second cast like when I took over John Robbins in 'Avenue Q', you still have that idea in your head so it's harder to come at something fresh. I'd never done the workshops or anything to do with the show so I'm just doing it how it drops out to me.
DOH: What has the rehearsal process been like for this production?
DB: It's had its ups and downs but I think that every rehearsal room does that. With it being new there has been a lot of rewrites, and a lot of having to learn new material quickly which is tricky for an actor, but it's part of the process and it's something you thrive off actually. It's important to see how the audience reacts, and that's what the week of previews is for. We still have rehearsals during the day so if jokes aren't quite landing or songs aren't going down well I think they're quite open to using these previews to fine tune it.
DOH: You've got your fingers in so many pies, your own music, TV work, acting. How does this fit in in context with your career at present?
DB: I've always said I'd love to create a new role so this is something I can sort of tick off my list. I've always loved singing and that is my main passion and drive. Over the past few years I've done a lot of performing my own material, doing concerts and I really love being myself and standing in front of an audience, telling stories and telling jokes. I have a new album out this year as well. I don't want to say I don't want to act any more, because I do love it but I do want to concentrate on my album and do some more concerts.
DOH: What excites you about Miss Atomic Bomb?
FA: It's such a rarity and it's so exciting to get a new production that's entirely new writing and a new concept, I think that's been exciting in the rehearsal room because everyone is creating these parts from new.
DOH: Is it quite different to other roles you've played in the past?
FA: Sometimes when you're going into a very long running show and you know you're number 15 or whatever, then there is only so much you can do. You try and make it your own as much as you can, but you know that there are fans going to see the show expecting something and you are a bit restrained and constrained by what actors before you have done. This is so lovely to be able to make much bolder choices as an actor.
DOH: Tell me a bit about your character - is she actually Miss Atomic Bomb?
FA: Ahh, you'll have to wait and see! I play Candy Johnson a Utah sheep farmer – real salt of the earth. I have both feet planted in the ground! It's very refreshing to play actually as there aren't many female parts where you're not introduced as someone's girlfriend or wife – she doesn't think of herself as being attractive so that doesn't matter. She doesn't have any family left and she's finally able to escape their small desert town and go to California. They've got aspirations to go there but certain obstacles get in their way and lead them to become involved in the atomic bomb beauty contest...
DOH: Was that something that you'd heard about before?
FA: I had no idea that this happened and I find it crazy that this was a tourist attraction. They had atomic bomb cocktails at the casinos and atomic bomb beauty pageants – we look back on it and think how crazy! They were having picnics on the test sites! I remember researching but there's not much out there. You can see the pictures of the beauty queens and the history of the time – in a way it's a funny dichotomy. It was an incredible time – they had just figured out how to split the atom. That's a huge thing for mankind to discover, and they saw it as a beautiful advancement in human kind but looking back we can see it was a horrific thing. Perfect ground of musical comedy! I don't know why anyone hasn't thought of it before...
DOH: How does that subject matter lend itself to musical theatre?
FA: It's got a bit of everything – it'll appeal to everyone. If you like massive tap numbers and big feathered headdresses, and gorgeous girls kicking their legs high, it's going to deliver. It's also got some really genuine and authentic scenes, some great touching moments.
DOH: What is it like working alongside Catherine Tate?
FA: Amazing – I'm star struck when I first met her! I've always loved her and grown up watching her. She's such a talent, she can make anything funny you just give her a line and we're in stitches. I've learnt lots from working with her and seeing how she works and how she delivers comedy. We've got on so well and have bonded together.
DOH: How important is it that Miss Atomic Bomb is a truly original new musical?
SL: I've got to be honest with you, that was the main thing that drew me to this project. In this era of musicals that we're in I think it's so brilliantly refreshing to have a show that's not based on a film or the hits of someone. The writing team have just done a wonderful job working on this – will it be 100% perfect? Who knows, it's a new show – there's always a lot to learn. They've written an exciting, funny and moving piece. There are some great tunes in there. I think there's quite a vibe in the musical world we're in right now where people are overly clever and push things in a new direction, what we sort of call that 'Jason Robert Brown' route. This is set in the 50s so it's got that style, then there's elements of country music and a slight rock and roll influence.
DOH: What's it been like being part of the cast?
SL: Being apart of it has been brilliant – truly creative and wonderful. To be in the room with such great actors too, I don't quite know how they've managed it! I look around the room and feel sort of inferior, and everyone is an expert in their own field. And I'm on-stage with Aladdin! When we're in that little duet I genuinely imagine we're singing "A Whole New World", with the carpet – that's what I'm doing in my head. I'm totally okay being Jasmine.
DOH: Is this quite a challenge originating a new role?
SL: I've been very lucky to do a lot of original casts and even the transfers that I do from New York, I always try and bring something new. I figure they've hired me, so I always try and take my own spin on it. This is a privilege to be able to create something from scratch – if it's this huge success and someone takes over the part, it's a real honour to know that something you've created has lived on in some way, to be in a room and genuinely be able to give your thoughts – you can truly say what you feel and work collaboratively with the creatives to figure it out is a brilliant experience.
DOH: Do you think the industry is supportive enough of new writing?
SL: I think the industry is really supportive of new stuff, but I think it's the general public that is harder to convince. I get it – I completely understand. Ticket prices are expensive, I guess it's easy to put your money on something you know. Several years back a year long run was considered a huge success and now we look at something that hasn't run as long and you consider it a flop because it hasn't run five or six years. You look at the Broadway seasons and there are new shows all the time going in, and they have that community. I think we do have it here, and it's perfect that we're going to the St James Theatre because I think it's got a theatre goers audience, and people who are ready to give new work a chance. Then it has the potential to have a further life. If you took this into a huge venue in the West End it would be harder to get it off the ground.
DOH: Does it feel refreshing to not be working with a puppet?
FA: There is no puppet! I love my puppets very much, but I'm very happy without it. 'Avenue Q' was a big part of my life, it's wonderful to stand on your own. Now I just have to worry about tap dancing! I haven't done it for a very long time. I'm not much of a dancer, bless Bill Deamer for putting up with me. I treat my feet like little puppets! That has been the biggest challenge through this – now it's that next level of seeing what an audience makes of it. As a comedy the audience is that extra cast member, you have to work out what's funny, what lands - things we may think are hilarious may fall flat. We'll use the previews to figure it out. I love being in an intimate space – it's the best way to do a comedy. When you're in a huge barn of a theatre it's so hard to play anything subtle...
DOH: There were subtitles in 'I Can't Sing?!'
SL: HA! There were subtleties in 'I Can't Sing' – the set was not one of them. That again, I really enjoyed a lot of that experience. In terms of the show there was some brilliant new writing in there. It got so condemned by the fact it had anything to do with that X Factor brand – it was always going it. It was a huge theatre to be in. Retrospectively if it had been in a much smaller theatre and they'd tried to make it a more intimate comedy then it would have maybe had a slightly different life. Everything about it was huge big Simon Cowell spectacle.
DOH: Do you think its failure and they way it played out so publicly was ultimately damaging for new musical theatre writing?
SL: I really agree with that – there were some brilliant songs in there, incredible performances, it was a genuine joy to be apart of it. One thing that I loved is that you loved the show or you didn't get on board with it. It was quite Python-esque in everything that it wanted to be – I didn't care whether people loved it or hated it, I didn't like people just hating it because it was the X Factor. People who came to see it laughed a lot and were swept away with the wacky world Harry created.