Did you live the fear of nuclear war? New Line Theatre’s ‘Atomic’ brings that feeling to the fore | St. Louis Public Radio

Did you live the fear of nuclear war? New Line Theatre’s ‘Atomic’ brings that feeling to the fore

Jun 7, 2016

Note: Due to an actor's injury, the June 10 and June 11 performances of "Atomic" have been canceled.

The creators of “Atomic,” a new rock musical currently on stage at New Line Theatre, remember living through the fear of nuclear war.

“The show starts in 1960 with the fear of nuclear war, which I perfectly kind of grew up with and motivated me to look into the history of it and start writing the piece,” said Danny Ginges, the playwright and a lyricist for the production.

Phillip Foxman, the composer and a lyricist for “Atomic,” had a similar experience. While he grew up in Australia and felt removed from the Cold War and the threat of nuclear attack, he said it became apparent to him when he moved to New York in the 1980s and heard stories of that period of time.

“You saw the bombshell things and you started talking about what it was like and the bomb shelters,” Foxman told St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter. “You started talking to people about what it was like and it was a very scary time. I was always fascinated with the whole Cold War history.”

The poster for "Atomic."
Credit New Line Theatre

Scott Miller, the artistic director of New Line Theatre, said the subject matter was what originally attracted him to the play, which has only been performed in four other locations. Another aspect that intrigued him? The amount of rewriting and reworking Foxman and Ginges had put into the production.

After the duo brought “Atomic” off-Broadway in New York, they spent a lot of time listening to audience feedback about it—especially about the show’s original comedic take on the making of the atomic bomb.

The story begins in 1939 and follows Leo Szilard, a scientist who is leading efforts to beat Germany in creating the atomic bomb. Questions of scientific progress, ethics and love take the stage and leave the audience asking: Should we have dropped the bomb?

“What’s cool about it is that it is not really about the project,” said Miller. “It is about these people working on it, mostly physicists, who have to grapple with what this meant and what they were creating and what the result of that would be. It is a story about the emotional rollercoaster of what these people went through.”

This is the first performance of “Atomic” that Foxman and Ginges have had to stay hands-off.

“As a songwriter, you’re always hearing things or thinking you could put the melody in there. You have to walk from the baby and let it grow up,” Foxman said.

Rock music forms the basis of the score.

“The emotions are so heightened, the story is a big story,” Foxman said. “It was obvious this was the way to go with it. You couldn’t express those emotions with big band music or sort of early jazz or something, it wouldn’t work. The songs are big and passionate. Melodic rock music really covers that area.”

But don’t expect to come out of the show with a newly-formed judgment about the creation of the atomic bomb.

“What I like most about this show is that it does not come down on one side or the other about any of these arguments,” Miller said. “All these people are smart and brilliant and in some way they are all right.”


Related Event

What: New Line Theatre Presents "Atomic"
When: June 3 - 25, Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
Where: Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis, MO 63103
More information.

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