Dream A Little Dream With Maureen
By R. J. Donovan
Maureen McGovern is an incredible vocalist. No question there. From her expressive phrasing to her perfect pitch and incredible range, she's the real deal. Whether motion picture themes, Broadway scores or the Great American Songbook, she has mastered them all, picking up her share of prestigious awards and accolades.
Those who love her best for her pristine recordings of Gershwin, Harold Arlen and others may be surprised to find that she's currently shifting gears a bit to embrace folk music -- where it all began for her.
In a new show entitled "A Long and Winding Road," currently being presented by the Huntington Theatre (in cooperation with Arena Stage) at the Calderwod Pavilion, she tracks her life and her country over the past six decades through the music of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Paul Simon, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and others. The production is the creation of McGovern and Philip Himberg, who also directs.
The jumping off point for the creation of the show, as she tells us in the first few moments, came via a medical scare. At "59 and twelve twelfths," she began to look back at her life, to reflect on where she has been, and where she was going. The result is a lovely, if somewhat ambitious and musically crammed memoir. Whatever its structural drawbacks, the evening elicits warm sighs and applause from an audience that remembers these songs with the same fondness with which they are presented.
It's not a career retrospective in the vein of say, Elaine Stritch, who, in "At Liberty," chronicles her life and career through the music she introduced and for which she became known. Rather, "Long and Winding Road" is one girl's dreamy reflection of being affected by the songs and times of her life -- and the lives of those around her.
Thus, we get antiwar rallies, the fight for civil rights, JFK, Martin Luther King, Vietnam, Kent State, and the onslaught of AIDS, presented against the memories of her Catholic school days, painful career valleys, divorce, family loss and finally, hopes for a better "Morning After."
The chat between songs speaks to any child of the fifties, touching on everything from "The Mickey Mouse Club" to "Sky King." Video segments capture happy times via personal home movies. And Maya Ciarrocchi's inventive design of projections gives the entire evening a lovely visual unity. (Standouts among the effects include the use of giant 45's to create a floor to ceiling backdrop, along with the moonlit universe that gave the finale an emotional tug.)
The evening includes everything from “If I Had a Hammer” and “The Times They Are A-Changing” to "The Secret Of Life," "The White Cliffs of Dover," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," a rollicking "Rocky Raccoon," "How Can I Keep From Singing," William Finn's "Infinite Joy," and a lovely rendition of McGovern (and Judy Barron's) own "You Love Me Too Late."
Her accompanist through the twenty-plus numbers is Jeffrey Harris, who mans the piano with a wonderful touch. The show is very much like a cabaret presentation -- personal and intimate -- but presented in a larger theater vs. a nightclub.
Structurally, the show is mostly linear in format. The fact that McGovern occasionally jumps around in her storytelling hinders the flow as you have to stop and ponder the order of things. And the "medical incident" that led to the creation of the show itself is never explained. She is quite clear that as she slid into the MRI machine she pondered how "the girl with the guitar became the old girl on the gurney," yet there's not a satisfying period added to the end of the sentence. She's standing in front of us, so clearly she survived. But from what?
The 90 minute show is so tightly packed with music and stories that it's almost like running your finger across the tops of two dozen fancy pastries. It's nice to steal a taste of each, but what about savoring your favorites more fully?
In the end, the audience embraced McGovern warmly. The show clearly resonates with an audience in its fifties and sixties who share the same history. Will it do as well with younger crowds? Time will tell as Ms. McGovern tours the country.
In the meantime, you can cross paths with Maureen McGovern's musical scrapbook through November 15.
"A Long And Winding Road" is at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center For The Arts, 527 Tremont Street, through November 15 . For information, call 617-266-0800.
-- Production Photo: Eric Antoniou
-- OnStage Boston
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