Meghan Gardiner’s new musical Love Bomb is an exquisitely wrapped package; delivering its story in a clever and unique way. Strip away the paper though and it is like discovering the Tiffany box beneath contains a charm bracelet instead of a diamond. Not that there is something wrong with receiving anything encased in robin egg’s blue, it’s just not what you were hoping for.
Preparing for a concert that same night in a Prince George bar, singer/songwriter Justine is interrupted by the arrival of Lillian, a fan who manages to convince her to play an impromptu concert. As Justine reluctantly completes her set list, the truth behind why Lillian is there and her connection to the songwriter is slowly revealed.
A big part of what makes Love Bomb work is in the revelations that are uncovered as Justine and Lillian discuss the meaning of the songs between each. It is a new approach to storytelling that feels fresh. It is also part of the show’s problem as it tends to get somewhat repetitive: song, exposition, song, exposition.
It also doesn’t help that many of the song’s lyrics are lost, and while Sara Vickruck looks the part, her vocals, combined with a sound system that does little justice to the music, are not always the strongest. And even while it may sound like a contradiction, the show’s cadence became necessary, at least on opening night, as it was the dialogue between the two that was the strongest. For Love Bomb to really work, the songs and the discussion of their meaning need to be complimentary.
Deb Pickman, who returns to the stage after a number of years, takes some time to fully envelope her mother-on-a-quest, but when she does find her stride, she inhabits the woman’s weariness and steadfast resolve.
As the 80 minute show plays out, there is also a lack of connection with its characters that is somewhat off-putting. Not that we are expected to cheer for either of these characters, who come with huge amounts of their own baggage, but we also don’t revile or even feel sorry for them. Given the subject matter that is explored, it was surprising how little emotional connection there is.
Steve Charles’ music is varied and interesting and easily captures the rock concert vibe that is at the center of Love Bomb. Drew Facey gives us a realistic set in three-quarter round framed by a stylized map of Western Canada pinpointing Jillian’s quest.
While I had hoped for diamonds, I still admire its packaging, and celebrate the birth of another made-in-Vancouver musical.
Love Bomb with books and lyrics by Meghan Gardiner. Music and additional lyrics by Steve Charles. Directed by Renee Iaci. A Firehall Arts Centre production in association with Shameless Hussy Productions. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre until October 10. Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.