In need of a vehicle to escape the car wreck that is the music industry, Lullaby Baxter, along with writer Lutwidge Sedgwick and artist Scott Carson, dreamed up a musical named after her latest album, Garden Cities of To-morrow, to transport her audiences with her sultry smooth vocals to a timeless world of love, heartbreak, obsession... and dishes. “It’s a fable-ized version of what a lot of couples go through,” says Baxter.
Using songs from both of her critically acclaimed albums, Capable Egg and Garden Cities of To-morrow, this cabaret-style musical tells the story of Dolores and Morton “Showstopper” Calhoun, a lovely couple from Kansas City. Obsessed with washing dishes, Dolores adopts orphans to make a mess worth cleaning and sends them out to collect more to indulge her need for a bubbly escape. Meanwhile, Morton distracts himself from his wife’s dirty habit by focusing his attention on another woman, if only for an instant, before catastrophe ensues. As the drama unfolds, Baxter delivers her signature quirky tunes, including “Cardboard Armoured Car,” “Dump Truck” and “Rattled Little Clam.”
Her unique sound is difficult to describe. Her hushed vocals and exquisite orchestral arrangements have been compared to pastoral folk, urban jazz, soft ’70s rock and quirk pop by a variety of music writers at a loss for words. The best description of her music comes from performance artist and friend Alexis O’Hara of Montreal: “A girlfriend of mine was saying that it’s music that evokes nostalgia for a time that never existed,” says Baxter.
These timeless songs, impossible to classify, and Baxter’s eclectic lyrics, written by writer Lutwidge Sedgwick, demand a unique treatment, one that she felt was never adequately explored during typical music tours pushed by her previous label, Atlantic Records. “I’ve always felt that I was performing a Chinese puppet theatre. The audiences were like, ‘Why is she doing that?’” she says.
Six months following the release of her second album, Baxter returned to Calgary, in the midst of the High Performance Rodeo and decided she wanted to be a part of it. “Because the audience is very seasoned, you can do something a little bit more strange and avant-garde” she says. “It’s an international festival, it’s huge.”
Following a collaboration with the Lily String Quartet for a show on the CBC in the spring of 2007, Baxter decided to incorporate the group’s classical treatment of German romantic conductor Felix Mendelssohn’s work with her contemporary, jazzy pop vocals for her musical. “Because, when do you get to see a string quartet as the backing music of a little show? You don’t, so that’s beautiful and they’re amazing musicians,” she says.
Formed in 2005, the Lily String Quartet is a dynamic chamber ensemble from Calgary comprised of Rachel Kristenson and Diane Lane on violin, Patricia Higgins on viola and Andrea Case on cello. They will be accompanying Baxter live onstage playing a variety of music while simultaneously acting as her orphans.
Heavily involved in creating the look and feel of the musical, artist and set designer Scott Carson, (whose stage name is Bertram Havisham) will also be playing the role of Morton “Showstopper” Calhoun, the dishwasher’s exasperated husband.
Directed by David van Belle, Lullaby Baxter’s musical première will surprise you: “It’s going to be very fun and funny. It’s just really creative, and I’m sure it’s just like nothing you’ve seen,” she says.