Atomic the Musical!

Friday, June 27th 2014

By: Trish
Edited by: Marcy

I would have to start by saying that this show probably would not have been on my “must-see” list if not for Randy’s participation. At last night’s very first preview, which was actually only the second time the cast had a full run-through on stage, Randy was on stage for a good portion of the first act, either in ensemble or in character. He plays two credited roles, Edward Teller a nerdy physicist, and Paul Tibbets a macho Air Force Pilot.

The show itself was good… but still needs some tweaking, something not unexpected so early in the run. I felt it was a little too long and a bit choppy, jumping from scenes in Japan, to USA, to Germany, and from decade to decade. Now this helps us see Randy a lot, which is always good in my book, but I think it interferes with the flow of the show itself. There is also an omnipresent table that the actors spin and move about the stage constantly. Honestly, that got a bit tiresome. The set itself is designed with metal scaffolding, sliding screens and big, heavy lights. It is very industrial looking. The theater holds 199 people and is new and clean. The stage is very wide, and seating is arranged in a few rows of many seats. There’s enough “step-up” from one row to the next and plenty of leg room, and I would have to say there’s not a bad view in the house.

The play opens with a couple kneeling in front of a screen, speaking gently to each other in Japanese. The screen then opens to reveal Robert Oppenhiemer, who will be a narrator of sorts for the play, and who is being questioned at the US official inquiries about the Atomic bomb, years later. As he begins to speak the ensemble enters the stage and begins to sing "Seminal Tale." They represent the people of Japan. The men, including Randy, are dressed in black slacks & crisp white shirts. They are all barefoot.

As the play jumps forward, we next see Randy behind that great big table, this time dressed in a vintage white lab coat. It’s amazing how, even when singing within a group I can always easily pick out Randy’s very distinctive voice. In perhaps my most favorite scene, which takes place in a German cabaret, Randy ballroom dances to "In Berlin," in a vintage tuxedo! (OK, OK.... so he is NOT dancing with Gale, but the moves he makes in that tux makes it impossible to take your eyes off him!)

Even though we’ve seen him on stage a lot, Randy hasn’t really spoken any dialogue by this point in the play. We first hear him speak, with a very distinctive accent, as Edward Teller the nerdy Hungarian physicist who has come to join the Manhattan Project. He’s geeky & adorable in lab coat, plaid sweater vest, bowtie & gold wire glasses. The other more exuberant personalities in the group call him “kid” and “bowtie” and he seems out of place in this ambitious group. One member of the group is Enrico Fermi, played by Jonathan Hammond. I'm not quite sure I like the way this character is written, seeming to fall back on Italian stereotypes - loud, womanizing, pasta-eating men. It's too easy.

In an effort to emphasize the frantic nature of “beating Nazi Germany to the bomb,” the actors spend a lot of time spinning that table and shuffling blueprints and lab coats etc. to show the passage of time. It didn’t really work for me… it’s one of the places where I think we’ll see some “smoothing out,” as the play progresses.

Jeremy Kushnier, who plays Leo Szilard, has a lot of stage time and solo songs along with Sara Gettlefinger who plays his pediatrician love interest, Trude. After a while, the songs they sing and the scenes they have almost seem repetitive... This is one area where the show could use some stream-lining.

Randy’s only solo comes in the first act as Paul Tibbets, the pilot who dropped the Atomic Bomb from his plane, the Enola Gay. Dressed in a full, clean, crisp Air Force khaki uniform, a young and somewhat drunken and brash Tibbets meets Leo in a local bar, where Leo states, “Are you sure you’re old enough?” when Paul orders a drink. His response, along the lines of, ”If I’m old enough to fight & die for my country, I’m old enough to drink,” reminds me very much of young Justin in the Liberty Diner. But this scene is when Randy truly shines, belting out a magnificent “Stars & Stripes.” Very powerful!

We don’t get to see much of Randy for the first part of the second act, other than in a very cute number where the ladies, dressed in “Rosie the Riveter” type costumes, sing "The Holes in the Donuts," a song about the secrecy involved in the manufacture of the bomb itself. Randy appears in a heavy trench coat & a fedora pulled over his eyes, to escort away one of the ladies who “talked too much.”

When Randy reappears as a more mature Tibbets later on, he is dressed in traditional “flyboy” costume, complete with leather bomber jacket and white scarf. He is now a decorated Special Forces Pilot and runs into Leo again at a bar. With backs to the audience, they sit at that table again, and quickly realize they are "in" on the same secret. He spends the time commiserating with Leo, who is having more than second doubts about the bomb, now that Germany has surrendered.

As the scientists continue to struggle with the monumental consequences that their invention could bring, and actually start a petition to stop the bomb, we see how the politicians and military have the ability & control to keep the project moving forward. In a very powerful scene, played on three parts of the stage, we see Randy, still in his leather jacket and now with helmet & goggles, suspended high in the rafters’ stage right, in the “cockpit” of the Enola Gay, while stage left Leo sings about his regrets and Oppenheimer at center stage sings about the glory.

For those of you who are planning to see the show I won’t tell you about how the scene plays out where the bomb is dropped, but I will say it begins once again with the Japanese couple and it’s intense without being melodramatic.

The scene now shifts to several years later, about the time of the US inquiries and we see the scientists once again seated at THE table. They are drinking and talking about how being a part of the project has changed their lives. The song they sing, "What I Tell Myself," works very well with the sense of confusion they feel about their involvement & their struggle to come to terms with it. Teller is older, and more an accepted part of the group. He’s dressed in brown & beige checked pants, a green dotted shirt with a blue sweater around his neck. He is supposed to report to the official inquiry in the morning.

The play ends with Leo, who has cured his own cancer by inventing radiation treatments, and Trude finally finding peace and the chance to start their life together. And truthfully, after some pretty powerful scenes in the play, I felt the ending lacked a little. At first the audience wasn’t even sure of it WAS the end of the play or just the scene.

I saw Randy very briefly after the play. He was dressed in a blue Henley shirt and denim cut-off shorts. When I congratulated him on the play, saying something like, “I really enjoyed it, it was great,” he smiled and replied, “It will be!” I will be heading back for another viewing on Sunday… so I can come back here and fix all the things I know I misremembered the first time!