Even if you have seen Maureen McGovern in past concerts, her new show A Long and Winding Road at Arena Stage is a special experience. Drawn from her experience as a folk singer, the result is a deeply personal and inspirational performance by one of the nation’s best vocal stylists.
Her early song selections set the tone for the concert. Her beautiful rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game,” accompanied by projections of childhood photographs, establishes that she is engaging in an introspective look back at her life and music. The theme of a personal journey is also found in the selection of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.” Yet the entire tone of the performance is one of optimism, as demonstrated by her confident and upbeat interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”
McGovern discusses the musical influences of her youth, influences that also included Carole King, James Taylor, Jimmy Webb, and the Beatles. Her heartfelt renditions of King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “You’ve Got a Friend” make it clear that she is singing songs with which she has a strong personal connection. She has a remarkably strong and soulful voice that shows no signs of aging.
McGovern achieves success in honoring the music of her life while effectively reinventing these songs with fresh and interesting results. Her vocal phrasing in “Fire and Rain” is exquisite. A jazzy interpretation of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die” is charming. McGovern’s interpretation of “MacArthur Park” as essentially a torch song is a revelation.
Her performances segue together nicely with stories from her life, including her experiences in the music business, and historical events that have impacted her. She looks back on the Viet Nam War, the Kent State shooting, the efforts to achieve racial equality, and the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic, but always with a graceful touch.
Her concert is also leavened with funny stories and lighter musical moments as well. She has a wonderful sense of whimsy which she demonstrates with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feelin’ Groovy” and Tom Lehrer’s “Vatican Rag.” A nod to her Broadway career, Kurt Weill’s “Pirate Jenny,” is an interesting change of pace. Only the Lennon/McCartney tune “Rocky Raccoon” is a rare off choice in an otherwise excellent selection of music.
McGovern is ably complemented by her arranger/accompanist Jeffrey D. Harris. The arrangements are excellent and he plays the songs with sensitivity and virtuosity.
The overall sense of the performance is that Maureen McGovern has gone through an eventful life and has found strength and comfort in the music of admired singers and songwriters. With songs like “Let It Be” and “Imagine” as inspiration, she approached her 60th year with a buoyant outlook on life. The audience leaves with a warm feeling from her positive messages and the intimacy of this wonderful musical experience.
Maureen McGovern in A Long and Winding Road
Co-conceived and written by Philip Himbery and Maureen McGovern
Directed by Philip Himbery
Musical direction by Jeffrey D. Harris
Presented by Arena Stage
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
For Details, Directions, and Tickets, click here.