Opening a new musical in New York is always a difficult task — the marketplace is crowded and the critics are notoriously difficult to please. But a show which had its world premiere in Sydney late last year has made its way to New York. Former ad-man Danny Ginges and TV writer Gregory Bonsignore’s Atomic, which opened last week, tells the story of the people behind the atomic bomb, focusing on the Manhattan Project’s Leo Szliard.
In Australia, it opened to lukewarm reviews for its two-week season in NIDA’s small performance space, Parade Playhouse. Back then, we spoke to Ginges about the challenges of mounting a new musical in Australia.
At the end of his review of the Sydney season for Daily Review, critic Lloyd Bradford Syke asked: “But does the show have legs? Not without ruthless cuts to the song list, tighter scenes, pithier dialogue and a stronger opening, at least. It’s raw, but with refinement, has something of the aesthetic of cult hit written on it. Just don’t expect to see it on Broadway anytime soon.”
The show hasn’t made it to Broadway, but it did make it to New York’s off-Broadway in less than a year, where several of the same criticisms have re-emerged in a series of overwhelmingly negative review.
In the New York Times, David Rooney labelled the show a “dud”, saying: “the overstuffed show unfolds like a hurried bio-drama shoehorned inside a lost, guitar-and-synthesizer-heavy 1970s rock opera.” He questioned why the story needed to be a musical in the first place.
David Finkle’s review for the Huffington Post was particularly scathing when it came to lyrics, saying that they’re rife with clumsy off-rhymes. “Neither Oscar Hammerstein nor Stephen Sondheim nor any other Golden Age lyricist you might mention would ever rhyme ‘office’ with ‘nauseous’ — especially since the correct adjective is ‘nauseated’,” he said.
Jesse Green wrote for Vulture: “Atomic is the kind of show the late Mary Rodgers famously called a why? musical: One that fills no conceivable need. Or am I mistaken: Did the story of the nuclear physicist Leó Szilárd, one of the tortured brains behind the Manhattan Project, cry out to be deepened with pseudo-Who power ballads like The Atom Bomb Is Here? No bad play is as bad as a bad musical, which has so many ways to fail. The creators of Atomic, originally staged in Australia, have cleverly found them all.”
Green also pointed out that the work was largely produced by the creatives: “But as Rodgers asked about musicals like her father’s (much better) Do I Hear a Waltz?: Why? It doesn’t take a physicist to realize that the answer, in the case of Atomic, is vanity. (It has been produced by several of its creators under corporate names.)”
Frank Scheck wrote, in the New York Post: “… Atomic, the stunningly misconceived musical that — after a mysteriously successful run in Australia — opened here Sunday, provoking the same kind of jaw dropping last seen by the audience watching Springtime for Hitler. Much like the Manhattan Project, its creators — Danny Ginges and Gregory Bonsignore (book and lyrics) and Philip Foxman (music and lyrics) — have created a bomb.”
Diep Tran’s review for Time Out New York was more positive: “While Atomic doesn’t reach explosive levels of grandeur, it is enjoyable and more introspective than your typical summer offering.”
Tickets are still available through to August 16.