Maureen McGovern's Long and Winding Road
The times may have a-changed, but Maureen McGovern's road has brought
her right back to the music she grew up singing. Her latest show, A Long and Winding Road,
played the Metropolitan Room this past winter, and the accompanying CD
was just released on PS Classics. For most singers, a concert and an
album would be more than a satisfactory achievement. But McGovern,
never one to sit still or rest on her laurels, is still developing the
project into something new.
Sixteen years after Baby I'm Yours, an album of classic "Baby Boomer" songs (a term McGovern herself doesn't like to use), McGovern's agent encouraged her to make another in a similar vein. "I made a free-association list of maybe between 200-400 songs that I loved when I was a kid," she recalls. She narrowed the list down by asking her fellow "Boomers" what songs came to mind when they recalled their childhoods and youths. As the songlist began to develop, she talked with Philip Himberg of Sundance about taking the project beyond a simple concert. "If I'm gonna do this, I don't want it just to be an album," she remembers telling him. "I want it to be more a statement, and something that could be done in a theatrical way."
"I always look for something that's timeless and relevant about today, and how we could find a new take on something and make it my own," she continues. "I started out as a folk singer in the late '60s, playing guitar, and what came to the surface were these specific songs by those iconic singer/songwriters." Together with musical director Jeff Harris, McGovern "tried to find new ways of saying things, and a way that was truthful for me." Apart from selecting songs that represented a generation, she also had to figure out which songs she could sing best. "I love Motown and those songs," she laughs, "but I don't sound great singing them!"
The theatrical angle of A Long and Winding Road is no accident: McGovern has appeared in numerous musicals and plays, making her Broadway debut as Mabel in the 1982 revival of The Pirates of Penzance. "I didn't have enough experience to be as terrified as I should have been," she recalls. "I did one week of summer stock-- never having done a high school play-- and three weeks later, opened on Broadway! It was daunting, but I had a grand time in that show." Another favorite role was Eleanor Bridges in Letters from Nam, which she will be reprising when the production is remounted under the title One Red Flower. "I loved playing the Countess Aurelia in Dear World at Sundance, and Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter," she recalls, before coming to her most recent Broadway venture: Marmee in Little Women. "[I loved] Marmee's strength and dignity," McGovern says of the role that she played not only in New York, but in 32 cities around the country on tour. "I had an incredible cast, not only on Broadway but for the tour as well, and when you're on the road for that long, it was a real family. Those kids are like my own. I really loved the whole cast."
For now, she is continuing to develop A Long and Winding Road, and finding new levels of meaning in the songs. "I don't think people really respected the quality of the songwriters at the time," she muses. "They thought of it as kids music. And we were so passionate about it at the time-- it was such a break from the traditional Great American Songbook." The songs, she believes, take audiences back to seminal moments in their youths. For example, Jimmy Webb's "Far, Far Away" was played at her graduation, and as such, she associates the song with a sense of freedom. "It's those moments," she says eagerly, "the power of music to take you back to a moment in time, or a period in time that changed your life."
Another song that felt particularly meaningful was Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'", which gets an energetic new arrangement in the concert and album. "Bob Dylan is such a genius, and that song could have been written this morning," McGovern says. "He wrote something so classic and timeless... he wrote that as a cautionary tale, as a warning, as an anthem for that generation, at that time. And today, we're still talking about change, and you need all those things that are ennumerated in the song. We're still desperately in need of change today. But I tried to infuse it with a hopeful edge," she adds about her more lyrical interpretation of the song. "If we don't change, the consequences are hopeless."