Friday, May 13, 2022

"Moonlit Walk Home" at Nautilus Music-Theater

Nautilus Music-Theater's second new original piece of music-theater this season is the lovely song cycle Moonlit Walk Home. It turns out that #TCTheater's favorite singing sisters Christina Baldwin and Jennifer Baldwin Peden have a talented poet for a mother, which isn't really that surprising; artistic talent often runs in families. Fern Green Baldwin put her writing aside to raise eight children and numerous plants and animals on 36 acres in the Minnesota River Valley outside of Jordan, Minnesota. She finally got back to writing in her 70s, and published her first book of poetry Moonlit Walk Home at the age of 80. Her daughters have adapted it into a song cycle, along with stage director Ben Krywosz and composer Daniel Nass. The result is a really beautiful collection of music that is not only a love letter to their mother, but also to finding poetry and beauty in the simple and mundane things of everyday life. 

In 65 minutes that fly by like 20, Christina and Jennifer sing a dozen or so songs adapted from their mother's poetry. There's also a bit of dialogue, as they tell stories of their mother's life from her point of view - her memories of growing up in Western Wisconsin, caring for a home and family, time spent with grandchildren, and musings on her writing career. Accompanied by music director Sonja Thompson on piano and Elizabeth Bell on violin sitting just off stage, Christina and Jennifer sing beautifully either solo or with divine sisterly harmonies, the emotion of telling their mother's stories imbuing every song with meaning, whether humorous or heart-breaking. The songs are varied with an Americana or classical sound, covering topics as diverse as the family dog, a visitation by an angel, and the wonder of nature.

I'm not sure there's another space in which I'd rather experience music-theater than Nautilus' intimate Lowertown St. Paul studio. With no amplification needed, the sound of the singers and musicians blends beautifully in the small space, nothing between the music and our ears. For this show, seating is arranged in the far corner with the stage built in the middle of the room, the multiple levels of wooden planks representing the deck of their home, cleverly incorporating the large poles in the space, against a backdrop of a wooded landscape. Bare light bulbs of varying sizes hang at various depths throughout the space, the changing light turning the woods into a crisp moonlit winter night or a warm summer day (scenic design by Victoria Petrovich, lighting design by Jeff Bartlett). The space on and around the thrust stage is well utilized with dynamic movement (and even a swing!).

Moonlit Walk Home is a unique music-theater experience, one that's mesmerizing, magical, and moving. It couldn't be more personal for the performers, which draws the audience into the experience and makes us feel a connection to it as well. See it now through May 29 (click here for info and tickets, with a sliding scale fee from $10 to $40).