“He came so close to me”
I first became aware of Gareth Peter Dicks’ music through The Music Box, a compilation of some of his musical theatre tracks sung by a ton of West End faves, which served as a neat introduction to this composer. It’s a tough old world out there for new musical theatre and so people have to find the best way they can to get their music out there and noticed – showcase CDs are one, and concept albums are another, what Dicks did with his musical Bluebird a few years ago.
A love story set throughout the turmoil of WWII, Sarah Lark’s nurse Roberta Jones is like so many others in having to bid farewell to her husband Pete as he leaves for the frontline and her daughter who is evacuated to the country. Pete keeps in touch via regular letter-writing but a charming US serviceman Ben fills the void for companionship in her life but as their relationship intensifies, Roberta is forced to question what and who she wants.
Dicks’ compositional style is relatively uncomplicated here, songs full of direct emotion get straight to the point whether in the show’s single best song ‘Goodnight Dear Soldiers’ with its superlative vocal from Abi Finley, Ben’s impassioned entreaties in ‘Our Hearts Must Take Control’ and ‘Beside Me’ with Ramin Karimloo upping the dreaminess stakes considerably, or the solemn plea of ‘Prayers (Moon Friend). This is assuredly a most tuneful musical.
Lyrically, it perhaps isn’t quite as strong, a degree more complexity there wouldn’t go amiss. But Kit Orton’s gorgeous voice is heartbreaking on the plaintive ‘A Soldier’s Letter Home’ and Gareth Chart’s shellshock is powerfully moving in ‘He Came So Close To Me’, both tracks effectively bolstered by the male ensemble from the trenches. And the close-harmony work of The Spitfires, an Andrews Sisters-type group, are an inspired choice to provide narrative links – one assumes, or at least hopes, there would be more of them in a full production of the show.
And as Roberta, Sarah Lark is the perfect heart of the story – her beautifully clean-sounding voice refreshingly free of affectation and consequently much more affecting, especially in the climatic ‘Two Men’. Listening to the album, one can easily imagine Bluebird in a theatre so who knows why it hasn’t happened yet, perhaps it is just the luck of the draw but with a showcase of this quality behind it, it should stand a chance yet.