Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Interview: Simon Lipkin, starring in Miss Atomic Bomb

Simon Lipkin is currently originating the role of Lou Lubowitz in new musical Miss Atomic Bomb.

Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long’s show is in previews at the St James Theatre ahead of press night on 14th March 2016. 

Inspired by the bomb tests and beauty pageants of the era, the musical comedy is co-directed by Bill Deamer and Adam Long. The cast also includes Catherine Tate and Dean John-Wilson.

Simon’s West End credits include playing Barlow the Dog in I Can’t Sing (London Palladium), Lonny in Rock Of Ages (Shaftesbury/Garrick), Nicky and Trekkie Monster in Avenue Q (Noël Coward), A Christmas Carol (Arts) and Pharaoh in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (New London).

Having recently played the title role in The Lorax at the Old Vic, Simon’s extensive theatre credits also include: The Proprietor in Assassins (Menier Chocolate Factory), Touchstone in As You Like It (Southwark Playhouse), I Love You You're Perfect Now Change (Above the Arts), Galahad in Spamalot (UK/International Tour), The Wedding Singer (UK tour), Willard in Footloose (UK Tour), Alice In Wonderland (Nuffield) and Austentatious (Landor).

On screen he has appeared in Doctor Who, The Bill, Casualty, Muppets Most Wanted, The Harry Hill Movie, That Puppet Game Show and Nativity 3. He also voices characters on the Cartoon Network show The Amazing World of Gumball.

I recently sat down with Simon during a break from rehearsals to discuss how he would describe Miss Atomic Bomb as a pizza, riding a magic carpet with London’s Aladdin, tap dancing and whether or not he would invite Jodie Jacobs to his stagey dinner party…

When did you first hear about Miss Atomic Bomb?
I’ve known about the show for a couple of years. I had actually been asked to do some of the workshops previously, but because of other things I was never able to do them. It feels like about time I got involved! I’ve known Adam Long, who has written it with Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long, for a while. Gabriel and I were actually in Avenue Q together originally. I’ve known Adam’s work with the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and then I’ve seen lots of Bill’s (Deamer, co-director/choreographer) work before. Now I am no dancer… and Bill has got me tap dancing [laughs]! It has been amazing to be on board.

What can people expect? It feels very fresh…
You’re right – it’s completely conventional but based on something that’s so ridiculous it makes it completely unconventional. It’s an all-singing, all-dancing musical with showgirls, tap dancing, lovely duets and all that type of stuff but existing around this atom bomb which just makes it completely fresh. It’s satirical humour. Very much like The Book of Mormon; never at any point does that show take the piss or mock Mormons… it just shows you the facts which happen to be funny. We’re sort of doing the same thing with atom bombs and marching soldiers into their deaths. If you do that with tits, teeth and tap shoes then you have a funny combination of events!

Simon in rehearsals for Miss Atomic Bomb

How have rehearsals been? Have things been changing a lot?
It has been brilliant, it has been really creative. Yes things have been changing a lot, but that’s a new musical! I’m sure the people that will be reading West End Frame are musical lovers, and the biggest thing to remember is that we’re doing something which isn’t based on anything; there are no famous songs or scenes from a hit movie. It’s a completely original musical. I’ve been around a little while now, and in my opinion I think it’s a really good one. Like all new musicals, there are things which need to be changed and tweaked, but it has been a brilliant experience to work on and create. That’s what it is all about!

Ok so let’s rewind to the mention of tap dancing! Have you ever tap danced before..?
[laughs] Well… like I did a little bit at college but we’re talking when I was sixteen years old. I am a terrible dancer – there is a reason why I do funny jokes and sometimes puppets.

Simon with Dean John-Wilson
Are there any puppets in this?!
There are no puppets in this – no puppets anywhere to be seen! I alternate between puppet jobs [laughs]. But yes, tap dancing has been an experience. Bill Deamer and Kylie (Anne Cruikshanks), his associate choreographer, have been wiggling my feet like there’s no tomorrow. If I just imagine that my feet are puppets and imagine puppeteering them, then maybe I’ll learn how to tap dance!

How would you describe the music?
Gabe (Gabriel Vick) is a really, really smart writer. This is the first full scale musical he’s written, and I don’t quite know how he’s managed to do such a good job of it. Most people have a lot of failures before they hit something good. He’s done a brilliant job. There are nods to that old school Broadway sound. What I personally like about it, is that there are good tunes in it. There are completely different styles in there. It’s set in the 50s so it refers back to radio singers – it’s slightly swing-y, jazz-y. That’s the base… if we were describing this musical as a pizza… the base would be this 50s jazzy sound, then you’ve got the slightly Rock ‘n’ Roll influences which come into it. Obviously a lot of it is set out in the desert so there are country influences. There are lots of lovely different sounds whilst all living in the period of the 50s. It’s amazing… plus I get to sing with Aladdin (aka Dean John-Wilson)!

[laughs] What is Aladdin like to sing with?
Basically what I’m doing is imagining we are on a carpet whilst singing our duet. I’m imagining that really there is a genie next to me, little Abu is on the corner and I’m giving it ‘A Whole New World’, all whilst singing the songs of Gabriel Vick [laughs] and Adam and Alex Jackson-Long. That’s what’s going on in my head! And I’m really ok with being Jasmine. Dean’s really handsome. I’m straight and have a beautiful girlfriend, but Dean is intimidatingly handsome. Even if you don’t like the show, just come to see it so you can look at Dean! 

Did you enjoy your time in The Lorax at the Old Vic?
Yes I did, the Old Vic is amazing! With Matthew Warchus taking over it’s an exciting time there. I haven’t worked at the National, but I’m sure it’s a similar thing to the Old Vic. You just think about the people that have been on that stage as part of a company. We were very privileged to do that show, it was a beautiful show to do. I really loved it. That was a very similar length of run to this. That’s the beauty of doing a new show.

Simon in rehearsals for The Lorax

Over the last couple of years you’ve just jumped from show to show, and everything has been so different!
I did a bit of Shakespeare… some comedy revue… old school Broadway… I’ve been very lucky. You have lovely little moments in your career when you think there’s lovely little highlights – like working on this. Honestly, the team of people we have in this room working on this show are truly exceptional. Catherine (Tate) and I have worked together before on a couple of things. Florence Andrews has done a lot but this is one of her first leads – she’s amazing! I did Avenue Q with Sion Lloyd and Daniel Boys is incredible. It’s a pretty special cast! I think it’s because we all read this thing and thought ‘I want to be involved in that’. 

Finally, I think you need to take on the stagey dinner party question!
[laughs] A stagey dinner party? Go on then!

Which three people would you invite?
But they have to be stagey?

Simon in Assassins 
Yes – you can’t invite someone like… Adele.
I wouldn’t invite Adele. I’m sure Adele is really lovely but I wouldn’t invite her to my stagey dinner party [laughs]. I think I would invite Mel Brooks because I’m a Jew and he’s a Jew… but also he’s one of the funniest men to have ever lived! I would want to hear his stories and all that kind of stuff. Did Jodie Jacobs (Simon’s close friend and former Rock Of Ages co-star) say me?

Did she?! Oh… well I would invite Jodie Jacobs. Didn’t she only invite me because she forgot my 30th birthday? Listen, I see Jodie all the time – she doesn’t need to come.

In our interview Jodie said she hasn’t seen you for months, despite you living above her!
Listen… Jodie Jacobs is an over exaggerator. And we don’t live above each other, we’re not like an odd couple. She’s on the second floor and I’m on the fifth floor… [jokingly] I’ve got a penthouse and she’s on the second floor… let’s not go on about it… I’ve got a balcony and she doesn’t… [laughs] but it doesn’t matter! None of this matters. 

Is she invited or not?
Jodie can come! Right I have invited Mel Brooks and Jodie Jacobs – so far it’s all Jews. So this dinner is on a Friday night, we’re having chicken soup with bagels and the lot! I need to diversify here because I think Mel would just hit on Jodie all night which would be weird. Alright, I’m going to invite… this is so hard! Shall I just pick someone for the sake of it? Actually no, I know who I’m going to invite! Michael Crawford! He’s my inspiration. I don’t know if he’s nice or not or what he’s like.

Why is he your inspiration?
Because when I was little I had a video of him doing Barnum at the Palladium. I’m not the best singer in the world or the best dancer or actor, but he was this showman which is what I attempt to do. I like entertaining people and making them laugh. Plus he was Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em… and The Phantom of the Opera. I just remember thinking as a little boy, ‘That’s the man I want to be. If my career can be like that I will be happy.’ So I guess I would want to pick his brains!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Miss Atomic Bomb runs at the St James Theatre until 9th April 2016. 
Please visit www.missatomicbomb.com for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 1:  Ruth Crafer
Photo Credit 2-3: Bronwen Sharp
Photo Credit 4: Manuel Harlan.
Photo Credit 5: Nobby Clark

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