note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Sheila Barth
Taking center stage in the Huntington Theatre Company’s world premiere of her musical memoir, “A Long and Winding Road,” the magnificent Maureen McGovern sings about diamonds, as her voice shimmers and gleams, every note a perfect facet. She talks about Mel Torme, the Velvet Fog, and her voice is rich, lush, smooth and silky throughout her one-woman, 95-minute show, currently appearing through November 15, at the Virginia Wimberly Theatre, in Boston’s South End. Because McGovern’s voice and style are so versatile, with her ability to hit four octaves and sing anything from rock to classical, folk to pop, and songs from the American Songbook, every minute of this show, which she conceived and co-wrote with Philip Himberg, highlighting her era - the Baby Boomer Generation of the 1960s and its music - is a gem.
Also impressive is 60-year-old McGovern doesn’t need a full orchestra, exploding, blinding lights or any other stage trappings to tell her story and sing her songs. Her mere presence, aided by talented pianist Jeffrey D. Harris, and scenic designer Cristina Todesco’s background screen that flashes moody scenes of moon and star skyscapes, drenched in deep blue, and photographs and home movies throughout her life, add a rich background. Subtle lighting is provided by David Lander, while Maya Ciarrocchi handles the projection.
And while McGovern’s life has been rocky, fraught with personal and career disappointments which she highlights throughout the show, she is triumphant, retaining her small-town Ohioan, down-to-earth charm, her sense of humor intact, while providing a touching historical and musical memoir.
It’s bittersweet that most people remember McGovern as the “disaster theme queen,” based on three disaster movie sound tracks she made that catapulted her to fame, but also slotted her into a specific musical genre - the theme songs from “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Towering Inferno,” and “Superman”. However, diehard fans will recall this woman with the “Stradivarius voice” more for her amazing portrayals in musical theater, from the time she replaced Linda Ronstadt on Broadway in “The Pirates of Penzance” in 1981 to her role in “Three Penny Opera” with Sting, in which she says she was forced to sing in an unusual register, ruptured a blood vessel in her vocal chords, that nearly caused her to lost her voice forever. She also appeared in many other musical productions afterward, including “The King and I,” and a lesser known but magnificent production at now-defunct North Shore Music Theatre, “Letters from Vietnam”.
McGovern traces history and trends of her era, from the time she was 5 years old and sang with her dad, lead singer of a barbershop quartet and a reticent World War II military hero, with whom she was very close.
She discusses her brief career as a folk singer, her brief marriage to a musician when she was 19, and he sold all of their belongings for $400, including her dog, as she traces historic milestones through photos and songs. She even leads a sing-along of “If I Had A Hammer,” delighting the audience.
She glides through her own renditions of tunes made popular by Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and others, while citing personal events, including the loss of one of her high school friends at the Kent State University student uprising, and her mom at age 58.
In her easygoing manner, McGovern doesn’t focus on the negative - she emphasizes humor, relating the styles, trends and historic highlights of the past four decades, making us remember, while reveling in her gorgeous voice, either performed a cappella, accompanied by Harris on the piano, or in one number when she sings and plays guitar.
On a personal note, I interviewed and later met Maureen McGovern when she appeared at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly. The sincerity, honesty, and wholesomeness that she exhibits on stage in “A Long and Winding Road” is exactly the way she is offstage - an immensely talented woman who tells a story and sings songs with grace and humility. This is one show you don’t want to miss.
BOX INFO:One-woman, one-act, 95-minute show, presented by the Huntington Theatre, currently appearing through Nov. 15 at the Virginia Wimberly Theatre, Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., in Boston’s South End. Shows are Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; select Sundays at 7 p.m., with matinees on select Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $20-$60. Senior, military discounts ($5 off); subscriber, BU community, ($10); 35 and below discount tickets at $25, and also back of row orchestra seats ($20). Check also for actors forums. Call 617-266-0800; visit huntingtontheatre.org, or the BU Theatre or Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts box offices.