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.
Ronnie Ruff says
Just to set the record straight I care little about how many hit songs an artist has. On Friday night I went to see a local blues singer here in Austin for the second time in two weeks. She is soulful, great stage presence, fabulous weather worn voice and she has a wonderful band backing her. I will see her many more times. She is not one of the best blues stylists! I reserve that for BB King, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Bonnie Raitt and dozens of others I will not name here. My comments were not about Ms McGovern’s talent but instead about placing her in the upper echelon of pop music stylists. This will be my last comment on this because in my mind it is silly to even even consider that. Happy Sunday DC and just as a side note.. is DC Theatre Scene not the coolest theatre site ever?
Barbara B says
I saw Maureen McGovern yesterday at Arena Stage at Crystal City. She has an absolutely beautiful voice. I really don’t care if she ever had a ‘hit’ song – her style and delivery was great. Barbara Cook has found a ‘new’ life in cabaret performing – and I enjoyed Maureen every bit as much as I did Barbara Cook. It was a wonderful show and her music director was also great…I recommend seeing her show before it closes on Apr 12th.
Ronnie Ruff says
If you do research she was a “part time” folk singer just out of high school before she was signed to sing movie themes. She left folk singing and never looked back. Her singing career has been made up of one top ten song and one that made it to 18. She is far from “one of the nation’s best vocal stylists” by any measure, to say that is ignoring hundreds artists from Tony Bennett and Sinatra to Streisand and Aretha Franklin and that is just pop music. As I said, I am glad she resurrected herself from relative obscurity after those two hits but selling out cabaret houses does not put her in the best vocal stylists category. Her “hit” album is ranked on Amazon.com at #257,518 in Music. I am not saying she is not talented but I just disagree with some of the statements in the review.
If you listen to Joel’s podcast Ronnie, Maureen talks about her folksinging years before she became the “Disaster Movie Queen”. I attended the show last night and she talked about her folk singing years before The Poseidon Adventure’s theme made her a star. She must be doing something right to sing as well as she does, selling out cabaret houses all over the country, and having a 37 year career (and more to come).
Ronnie Ruff says
Best vocal stylists? Folk singer? The Disaster Theme Queen has never been a folk singer much less the best at anything having to do with music. While I admire her for reinventing her show business career she was never more than a one or two hit wonder in the “pop” music world.
Actually, the Broadway song Maureen McGovern does in this show is “Pirate Jenny”, not “My Ship”.