DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Maureen McGovern Plus Your Wish Lists and News of Menzel

News   DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Maureen McGovern Plus Your Wish Lists and News of Menzel
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Maureen McGovern
Maureen McGovern Photo by Gideon Lewin

Whether she's singing in intimate cabarets, on the Broadway stage or in concert halls around the world, singer-actress Maureen McGovern always manages to impress with her crystal-clear voice that effortlessly soars from a powerful belt through a glorious upper register and her detailed attention to a song's lyric. McGovern has spent much of the past few years inhabiting the role of Marmee in the musical version of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women — first on Broadway and later in the show's national tour. The award-winning artist is now scheduled to return to the Manhattan cabaret scene with a brand-new show entitled A Long and Winding Road. Co-conceived with director Philip Himberg, the Feb. 13-16 and Feb. 21-23 concerts at the Metropolitan Room will feature an evening of intimate portraits, including tunes by such '60s singer-songwriters as Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon, Carole King, James Taylor, Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, Lennon and McCartney and Laura Nyro. Cabaretgoers can expect to hear McGovern wrap her gorgeous tones around such classics as "The Circle Game," "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and "Imagine," among many others. I recently had the great pleasure of chatting with the versatile performer, who spoke about her work in Little Women and her upcoming cabaret program; that brief interview follows.

Question: I think the last time we spoke was right before you were heading out of town with Little Women prior to Broadway.
Maureen McGovern: One-hundred years ago! [Laughs.]

Question: You had mentioned at that time that you had never gotten to enjoy a Broadway opening night because you had been sick for the opening of Threepenny Opera. I was wondering how the Little Women opening lived up to your expectations.
McGovern: Other than family members who couldn't make it because of the snowstorm — and my date, Rob Fisher, who was coming in from London and was diverted through Washington-Dulles and never got there — other than that, [laughs] it was perfect. It was just one of those magical nights that you dream of. And, of course, we had that spectacular snowstorm, and the opening-night party was at Tavern on the Green, so it was "set design by God." [Laughs.] It was an extraordinary night, and I'm very, very grateful for that.

Maureen McGovern, with Sutton Foster, in Little Women
photo by Paul Kolnik

Question: What was the experience like of playing Marmee on Broadway?
McGovern: I loved the role of Marmee. I just think she's a wonderful character, and I tried to fill her soul with humor and passion — as well as the pain that she went through with the loss of a child and being a single parent during wartime. I think [that resonated with] a lot families, [and they] really took to Marmee. . . . She was just a great character. We did 32 cities on the road for a whole year with a new cast, other than a couple of members from the cast on Broadway, and she was a lovely role. And Marmee's strength . . . [I loved] her strength and her compassion. Question: Was it a difficult decision for you to decide whether or not to tour with the show?
McGovern: It was in a way, but I'm glad that I did the tour. So many of the cities that we took the show to were cities where I perform regularly with symphonies or in concert, so it was nice for my concert audiences to see me across the country in a different light. Question: When you toured with the show, you probably got to stay a little longer than you do [for a concert.]
McGovern: Right, one-nighters. [Laughs.] It was nice to be in a city for at least a week. Some places we were there for two weeks, and in DC and Detroit, we were there for a whole month.

Question: Now you're coming back with a new cabaret show. Tell me about the show, A Long and Winding Road.
McGovern: What you're going to be seeing is about half of what is really a two-hour-plus theatrical venture that we're working on. This will be kind of a preview to that. My agent, Rich Aronstein, has been after me for years to do a "boomer show," and I was not interested in doing [that]. In the early '90s I recorded "Baby, I'm Yours," a boomer homage CD of the overtly pop songs from that time. I had a great deal of fun doing that, but I wasn't interested in doing a redo of that.

I spoke with Philip Himberg, who has directed me in several productions for the Sundance Institute. Last summer we started talking, and I said, "If I'm going to do [a new show], this is what I would like to do: introspective musical portraits of these particular singer-songwriters that I loved growing up." First of all, we just wrote down every song I loved from when I was growing up. We had 400 songs! [Laughs.] Then we had to shape it and frame it into something . . . . [I didn't want to perform them as] museum pieces; I [thought I] could [present them] as I do [songs from] the Great American Songbook. I like to find why [these songs are] timeless.

I focused on the iconoclastic singer-songwriters from that time: the Joni Mitchells, the James Taylors, Dylan… I started out as a folk singer in the late '60s — playing guitar with the long blonde hair. So it was really very nostalgic for me to go back before "The Morning After" [and see] what influenced me then. Again, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Laura Nyro, I love. Jimmy Webb — his song "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress," to me, is one of the greatest songs ever written. It's just an extraordinary art song, basically. And, Carole King and Paul Simon and, of course, Lennon and McCartney are honorary members of the second half of the Great American Songbook. They're just songs that resonated with me. Judy Collins, I'm a huge fan of hers. I was going to do "My Father" because she is a wonderful songwriter as well. I lost my dad a few years back, and it was just a little bit too hard to do right now, but eventually we will include that along the way. I do two songs that I remember very vividly loving hearing [Judy Collins] sing as a kid, "Carry It On" and "The Coming of the Roads" by Billy Edd Wheeler. Gorgeous, gorgeous piece.

Question: Do you envision this program as a two-act theatre piece?
McGovern: Yes, that's what we're working on at the moment, and this is sort of a little prelude to that.

Question: Do you think you would premiere the full show at Sundance?
McGovern: We're talking to a lot of the theatres that I've worked at around the country about where we'll actually [debut the show]… This is an independent project that Philip is doing. It's not with Sundance per se. He's directing, [but it's not] under Sundance's auspices.

Question: You play both big concert halls and small cabarets. Do you find that you have to adjust your performance style at all? How do you approach the different venues that you play?
McGovern: It's interesting because I approach my concerts in a very intimate way, so people are brought to me in a one-on-one situation as if I'm speaking to them individually. I think working in cabaret has actually made my concerts better, because I can translate that intimacy that you have with people literally two feet in front of you and bring an entire audience to you on the stage.

Question: Do you like performing in the smaller places where the people are right there in front of you?
McGovern: Sometimes it's a little distracting because you see people going through their purses, people getting up to go to the bathroom… [Laughs.] When you do a so-called "more theatrical concert" [in a cabaret setting], it's a little distracting at times. In an audience, I can feel them more than see them [in a concert hall]. But there is that immediacy of cabaret that it wonderful.

Question: How do you go about protecting your voice?
McGovern: You have to be very careful. Doing Little Women for two years, you're hammering away in the same range for a long time.… Marge Rivingston has been my vocal coach since 1981, and I have a whole series of tapes that we use, but you're doing eight shows a week for two years, the same show basically… I started listening to Light in the Piazza and singing all the parts to that as my vocal warm-up.

Question: Do you have any other projects in the works? Any new recordings?
McGovern: We're talking to a label right now about A Long and Winding Road, recording that, so we should know very soon.

Question: Would you be interested in coming back to Broadway?
McGovern: Absolutely. Oh, yes.

Question: How do you find the Broadway schedule?
McGovern: You really have to approach your life like you're in training as an athlete. When you're doing press… that was the hard thing for me on the road. My mantra was, "Marmee never gets to play!" [Laughs.] All the cast had parties and great times, but … we'd come into a city the day before [we opened], so you unpack — and I had my two puppies with me — and then you're up at five in the morning to do the morning TV and radio [interviews] for the opening day. You do your sound check, you do your show, and then I'd poke my head in for the presenters' party afterwards just to be polite, and then be back up at four or five in the morning and getting ready for hair and makeup for the second onslaught of press, then do the show. Thursday I'd be doing press for upcoming cities. Friday, if I was lucky, I would have Friday afternoon [off], and then I'd have five shows on the weekend. So that's the life of a theatre bird!

Question: Getting back to your new show. You've recorded the Gershwin album, and you've done whole shows of Richard Rodgers songs. How do you think these songs in A Long and Winding Road compare to the standards?
McGovern: It's interesting. These songs, like I said, each one of them I love for different reasons. We would sort of preview a little pocket of the songs as we were learning them along the way. Jeff Harris, who is my musical director, has done all of the arrangements. We just struck a nerve. It's an amazing thing. So it's very exciting. I wanted this to be different from everybody who is doing the "boomer" stuff. Barry Manilow has his homage, and there are just lots of people doing that kind of thing. I wanted to find the idiosyncratic singer-songwriters [who] broke the mold. Those songs, to me, have become the second half of the Great American Songbook. They're classic and timeless.

[McGovern will offer A Long and Winding Road at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, Feb. 13-16 and Feb. 21-23 at 7:30 PM. For reservations call (212) 206-0440 or visit www.metropolitanroom.com.]

One diva lover hopes for a live recording of Patti LuPone in Gypsy
photo by Joan Marcus

Last week I wrote about a few gals I'd like to see onstage in 2008. What follows are a few of the diva wishes I received from readers of this column. "A return to Broadway of Betty Buckley and Linda Eder!" (Peter)

"I'd like to see the LuPone Gypsy recorded live. It does seem that we all loved the performance at City Center and, yes, the applause after 'Everything's Coming Up Roses' and during 'Rose's Turn' was thunderous. This seems to me to be a production that would be better served with a live recording." (Al)

"For me, on the Follies note, seeing Vanessa Williams as Carlotta would also be divine. She's been through it all, too! She's my wish-list Carlotta for Follies." (Mark)

"My biggest theatrical wish would be to see Frances Ruffelle reprise her London performance as Roxie Hart in Chicago. Or Frances Ruffelle in anything on Broadway this year!" (Dan)

"My wish list includes luring Kim Criswell back to the States to do any of the Merman vehicles that she does so incredibly well. Maybe Red, Hot and Blue." (William) "Elaine Paige as the Christine Ebersole role in Grey Gardens." (Tucker)

"My one wish for the entire year would be to see Barbara Cook being honored in late December with a Kennedy Center Honor for her lifetime of providing America with great entertainment." (Tom)

Tony Award winner Idina Menzel and international recording artist Josh Groban will head the cast of two upcoming Chess concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall. The concerts, scheduled for May 12 and 13 at the famed London venue, will be introduced by Chess co-creator Tim Rice. Groban will portray the Russian with Menzel as Florence. Additional casting will be announced at a later date. Show time is 8 PM. For ticket information visit royalalberthall.com. . . . Menzel will also guest on the "Today Show" Jan. 29, the same day her newest solo recording, "I Stand," arrives in stores around the country. The "Today Show" airs in the New York metropolitan area on WNBC-Channel 4 from 7-11 AM ET; check local listings.

The White Plains Performing Arts Center will present four concerts of the award-winning Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens-Terrence McNally musical Ragtime in February. Directed by Sidney J. Burgoyne, the epic musical will play the White Plains, NY, venue Feb. 1-3 as part of the Center's new Broadway in Concert series. James Bassi will be the show's musical director. The cast, featuring several New York favorites, will include Mark Aldrich (Willie Conklin/Henry Ford), Farah Alvin (Mother), Allison Blackwell (Sarah's Friend), Jerry Dixon (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.), Jay Leland Krottinger (Stanford White), Keithon Gipson (Harlem Man), Rosena M. Hill (Sarah), Zach Landes (Little Boy), Kathryn Markey (Emma Goldman), Steven Nicholas (Harry Houdini), Patricia Noonan (Evelyn Nesbit), Robert Ousley (Grandfather/J.P. Morgan), Patrick Porter (Father), Yurief Rodriguez (Harry K. Thaw), Brian Charles Rooney (Younger Brother), Mikie Joy Sakanaka (Little Girl), David Villella (Tateh), Nicholas Ward (Booker T. Washington). The cast will play multiple roles. The White Plains Performing Arts Center is located on the third level of City Center at the corner of Main and Mamaroneck in downtown White Plains, 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan. For tickets, priced $35-$45, call (914) 328-1600 or visit www.wppac.com.

Broadway favorites Andrea McArdle, Lea Michele and Adam Pascal are among the performers who have joined the line-up of artists who will perform at Feinstein's at Loews Regency in 2008. As previously announced, the New Year will kick off with Tony Martin (Jan. 29-Feb. 2) and Tony Award winner Betty Buckley (Feb. 5-24). The latter will perform a brand-new show entitled "Then & Now," which will celebrate her latest solo recording ("Quintessence," Playbill Records) and will feature direction by Richard Jay-Alexander. Buckley will be followed by Annie's Andrea McArdle (Feb. 10-11), Spring Awakening's Lea Michele (Feb. 25), Freda Payne in "Freda Payne Celebrates Ella Fitzgerald" (Feb. 26-March 1), Anna Bergman (March 24), Gianni Russo (April 14), Eileen Fulton (April 27-28), Rent's Adam Pascal in "Broadway State of Mind" (May 4 and 5) and Harvey Granat (May 12 and 19). Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. For reservations call (212) 339-4095. Visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com for more information.

Big League Productions — the company that books Broadway musicals for touring throughout the world — is planning to launch a 30th anniversary tour of the Tony-winning Fats Waller revue Ain't Misbehavin'. A spokesperson for Big League confirmed to me earlier in the week that "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard and former "American Idol" contestant and Rent star Frenchie Davis will head the cast of the tour, which will kick off Nov. 14, 2008, and continue through mid-May 2009. Among the many cities the tour will play are Boston, MA; Los Angeles, CA; Wilmington, DE; Birmingham, AL; Salt Lake City, UT; Pueblo, CO; Erie, PA; and Hays, KS. Additional casting and cities will be announced at a later date. Richard Maltby, Jr. — who wrote and staged the original 1978 production of the Fats Waller revue — will direct the tour as well. For more information visit www.bigleague.org.

Casting has been announced for the world premiere of the new Henry Krieger-Bill Russell musical Up in the Air: The Story of Boonah, the Tree-Climbing Frog. The family-friendly musical will make its world premiere during the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' upcoming JAPAN! culture + hyperculture Festival. Part of the Center's Performances for Young Audiences Series, Up in the Air will play the Family Theater Feb. 7-10. Amon Miyamoto, who directed and choreographed the 2004 revival of Pacific Overtures at Studio 54, will direct. It was also Miyamoto's idea to adapt Mizukami Tsutomu's well-known Japanese tale into a musical. The cast of mostly Broadway veterans will feature Jill Abramovitz (Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me), Stanley Bahorek (Spelling Bee), Donna Lynne Champlin (Sweeney Todd), Jonathan Hammond (The Light in the Piazza, national tour), Deborah Lew (Beauty and the Beast), David McDonald (Mamma Mia! ), Lillias White (Tony winner for The Life) and Michael Leon Wooley ("Dreamgirls" film). For more information visit www.kennedy-center.org.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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