Venue: NIDA Parade Theatres (Kensington NSW), Nov 16 – 30, 2013
Music and Lyrics: Philip Foxman
Book and Lyrics: Gregory Bonsignore, Danny Ginges
Director: Damien Gray
Actors: Michael Falzon, Bronwyn Mulcahy, David Whitney, Christy Sullivan, Lana Nesnas, Simon Brook McLachlan, Blake Erickson
Image by Gez Xavier Mansfield Photography
Atomic is a musical about two things; the invention of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945, and Leo Szilard, the man who was chiefly responsible for the science behind it. It is admirable that the writers had afforded a substantial portion of the show to historical aspects of the story, but the nature of musicals always seems to favour less solemn content, even if they are highly emotional. It is hard to make a dignified musical work, but the efforts here are laudable. One is reminded of Miss Saigon and Madame Butterfly, where war provides the backdrop, but personal devastation is given the spotlight. The result is a stronger, and more effectively emotional experience, but those sentiments are clearly not of the best taste. Atomic would perhaps be a more conventionally engaging musical if it dwells more heavily on Szilard’s personal predicaments and crises, but it is understandable that the show chooses to adopt a more refined approach to its storytelling.
On the technical front, Michael Waters’ sound design is most accomplished. NIDA’s Parade Playhouse’s acoustic potentials are exploited thoroughly, and the venue proves itself to be an outstanding option for more intimate stagings of musicals. There are some issues with lighting and set, but they are a result of being over-ambitious rather than negligence.
The strongest element in this production is the quality of its performers, who each have their moments of undeniable brilliance. Leading man Michael Falzon invests a great deal of psychological authenticity into his characterisation, and puts on a subtle yet strong portrayal of Szilard. Falzon’s success at transforming an unassuming scientist into a musical protagonist without the use of stage cliches is impressive and remarkable. He also happens to be the performer who executes the show’s choreography most effectively. David Whitney plays Enrico Fermi, the show’s only flamboyant character, and stands out appropriately with a joyful and effervescent performance. Christy Sullivan plays a wide range of ensemble characters, consistently delighting with conviction and a natural charm. It must be said that all performers sing their parts beautifully, and this is an Australian cast to be very proud of.