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Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield

Dreamingful Productions presents ATOMIC – A New Musical in the Parade Playhouse, Parade Theatres, Kensington.

ATOMIC – A New Musical performed in the Parade Playhouse in Kensington is a work in development – progress. A workshop reading was, so I am told, held in February of this year. It seems that much as been going on since then. One of the writers is an Australian, Danny Ginges, working with Gregory Bonsignore, an American, both on the Book and Lyrics. Philip Foxman of Australian/American background has been collaborating on the Music and Lyrics. All assisted by Shannon Murdoch, from Melbourne as Dramaturg. An American Director, Damien Gray with a New York based Australian Designer, Neil Patel have staged the work along with Australians working on Costume: Emma Kingsbury; Properties: Sarah Pickup; Lighting: Niklas Pajanti; and Sound Design: Michael Waters. Musical Direction/Orchestration/Vocal Arrangement: Andy Peterson; Choreography: Larissa McGowan, both Australian.

ATOMIC is a bio-graphical rock-musical occupied with the life of Leo Szilard (1898-1964) – an Hungarian/American scientist. Born in Hungary, to Jewish parents, he served in World War I, studied mathematics, trained in Germany as a physicist, then fleeing Nazi anti-semitism, to London and, consequently, to the United States. It was Leo Szilard who conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933; patented the idea of the nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and became involved in The Manhattan Project to build an Atomic Bomb in the scientific “race” against time and the German scientists during the Second World War. Szilard always had moral and ethical issues around the foreseeable consequences of his work, and did not publish much, and as a result, he was not included with the other  Nobel Prize winning scientists and is virtually unknown. It was he, who went on, after, World War II, to develop the electron microscope, the linear accelerator and cobalt therapy radiation treatment for cancer, and finished his career with the Salk Institute in San Diego.

This musical covers that vast canvas of countries, state/international politics, scientific politics, moral and ethical politics, and just as importantly, in this story, his personal politics – his relationship with his devoted wife, Trude, throughout it all.

With only seven performers: Michael Falzon (Leo Szilard), Bronwyn Mulcahy (Trude Szilard), David Whitney (Fermi/ensemble), Simon Brook McLachlan (Oppenheimer/ensemble), Blake Erickson (Compton/ensemble), Lesna Nesnas (Lucy/ensemble) and Christy Sullivan (Leona/ensemble), the Director, Damien Gray, has developed a sophisticated and detailed range of characters on stage. The acting is most astonishing. Musically, the company is extremely accomplished and the choreography as slick as. The Set Design of a scaffolding background, scaled with inventive, visceral lighting effects, and a set of six sliding screens to shift locations and create illusions of travel: plane, boat and train, is tailored  to this showcase production with an elegant and, indeed, beautiful quality. A long rectangular wheeled table serves an amazing range of functions and the properties are simple narrative supporters – take note of the ‘sacrificial’ goat. The costume details, to create and facilitate the quick changes for an enormous range of characters, is inventive and intricate in its collaboration. The sound design by Michael Waters in location shifting effects is of a high creativity, the technical control on the “Surround Sound” of it all startlingly good, immersive.

All of this production is of a whole and serves to give an entirely rewarding night in the theatre.

I usually measure the success of a performance by the amount of time that I find myself immersed in the story and the incidents. I found that in the first 20 minutes, or, so, I was unsettled, and whether it was because of the dazzling range of character changes that the performers were having to communicate to us, so that I was still adjusting to the “theatrical contract” being offered to us, or, the over familiar early story of pre-war Berlin and the persecution of the Jewish population, or, that it was the simple pragmatic technicality that the songs were too short – so each time I began to ‘take-off’ with the material, I was brought back to ‘earth’ and had to “take-off”again, I am not sure. But from the musical song: “America Amore” delivered by David Whitney and ensemble, I was suspended into belief and curiosity. I was completely won over. Considering, with an interval, this production is running almost 3 hours, it was a considerable achievement.

The scientific, bio-graphical details of the events in Leo Szilard’s life is counterpointed with the poignant evolution of his relationship with his wife, Trude, and his philosophical moral and ethical dilemmas about the consequences of his life’s work. The passion of the creative scientist and the pragmatic consequences! Mr Falzon gives a remarkably sensitive reading and is equipped with singing skills and technique to seamlessly take us into the ambition and doubts that Leo Szilard experienced. He is the undoubted spine that creates the sweeping human quality of this production. Ms Mulcahy gains focus and power throughout the performance in the difficult role of Trude, and reaches a telling empathy with her act two song: “What I Tell Myself.” David Whitney gives a tour de force performance as Fermi (again, “America Amore”) but in all his other ensemble work, too. In this small company there is no weak link, at all. (are historical figures like Fermi and Oppenheimer, to casually respected?!!!)

The music and lyrics are easy to absorb. Of recent Music Theatre, I was particularly surprised at the subject matter of NEXT TO NORMAL and was stimulated at the depth of its examination of a very serious social phenomenon (if not the actual musical performance). ATOMIC has that appeal for me, as well. The issues are important and need to be examined in the framework of our present times, still, urgently.

“We turned the switch, saw the flashes, watched for ten minutes, then switched everything off and went home. That night I knew the world was headed for sorrow” – Leo Szilard.

Nagasaki and Hiroshima followed this observation of the American desert atomic experiment.

I understand that this production is headed to New York and the off-Broadway Playwright Horizons theatres. I hope it does well. Catch this work if you can. It is an entirely satisfying experience as it stands at the moment, and I am sure it will go through even further workshop development. This work seems to be in a much better place than the DOCTOR ZHIVAGO exploration of a few years ago now, at the Lyric Theatre, that also had an eye to the Great White Way.

Best Wishes to all the team.

Do go.