A musical about the Manhattan Project? Bring on the dancing physicists and chorus girls in lab coats. Belt out those odes to fissure. Enrich our hearts with uranium! Atomic is in staggeringly bad taste, but (unfortunately) not in some outrageous, self-ironizing Springtime-for-Hitler way. This astoundingly sentimental new drama (composed by Philip Foxman) asks us to empathize with the wrenching ethical and romantic choices faced by well-meaning folks who invented the deadliest, most destructive weapon of all time. Among them: Leo Szilard (Jeremy Kushnier), Leona Woods (Alexis Fishman), Enrico Fermi (Jonathan Hammond) and, of course, Robert Oppenheimer (Euan Morton).
Unfortunately, the production, directed by Damien Gray, struggles with a major artistic disconnect. On one hand it tackles a portentous subject and momentous questions, showing the anguish of these elite scientists when the nuclear bomb they invented gets used by the United States to kill hundreds of thousands in Japan and imperils the planet. But Atomic simultaneously revels in a hackneyed theater form that constantly trivializes the tale: conventional vibrato vocals and overwrought rock anthems in which “patent” rhymes with “enemy combatant.” (“We could build a chain reaction that could light up/light up…the world!” the researchers sing in one number.)
The fallout is a garish melodrama, oversimplifying epic events and weirdly overloaded with pulsating rock-show lighting. Take shelter under a table and cover your head.