A Long and Winding Road
Maureen McGovern’s beautiful voice fills a theater full of baby boomers whose shared remembrances beckoned them to travel down A Long and Winding Road with the noted performer. The Huntington Theatre Company presents this evening of songs and storytelling conceived and written by director Philip Himberg and McGovern, with musical direction by pianist Jeffrey Harris. At times, the audience becomes a choir, wistfully joining McGovern on the choruses of folk and pop tunes from the last few decades. That is, until she asks them to leave the singing to the professional. It is her show, after all.
McGovern's one-woman autobiographical performance relies on the songs written during her 60-year history. Winding Road's playlist includes numbers by more than twenty-two pop, folk and musical theater composers. For some reason, she did not perform the title number on the evening I attended. I was familiar with less than half of the tunes from composers that included Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, James Taylor, Stephen Schwartz, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney and others. Performing "You Love Me Too Late" (written along with Judy Barron) on guitar, McGovern reminded us why she found success in the music business.
When she sings, it is hard to ignore McGovern's impressive command of an incredible instrument. Unfortunately, this is not a concert, but a theatrical event. Overall, the piece fails to meet this standard. The jokes are simple and the storytelling barely scratches the surface, with some exceptions, including the touching tale of losing a dancer friend to AIDS in the 1980s. But, in most cases, she delivers a brief excerpt of an experience and then moves on. More details and on-stage soul searching might deepen the experience. I wanted to know: What happened to her mother? How did McGovern regain her voice after it was damaged? How did losing a friend in the Kent State shooting affect her? And so on. The script's chronologically wandering structure doesn't help assemble the pieces, either.
The elaborate projection design by Maya Ciarrochi seems unnecessary for what is an otherwise elegant set by Cristina Todesco, lit with appropriate flair by David Lander. Bravo to sound designer Ben Emerson for getting the job done right. His work serves its purpose without becoming that unintended villain plaguing so many theater productions, professional and amateur.
I could not connect with A Long and Winding Road, even though I tried. I couldn't get past McGovern's continuing efforts to prove her celebrity with name-dropping and photo projections. I was disappointed that she delivered lines in an affected speaking voice that didn't seem genuinely conversational. Most notably, I was not familiar enough with the music that was central to the heart of McGovern's journey.
This piece was not written for me, but for the many baby boomers McGovern addresses at the intimate and comfortable Wimberly Theatre. It's a smart programmatic choice that will hopefully inspire return visits to live theater from this demographic. As the more seasoned theater audience faces health issues and the aging process, the theatrical community needs to reel in younger patrons. Many of my Gen X contemporaries are not focused on the theater yet, perhaps due to the affordability of tickets and the slew of other demands on our free time. The theater community will possibly have better luck drawing in 50- to 70-year olds with dispensable incomes and more patience.
A Long and Winding Road runs through November 15 at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St. For tickets and information, visit the box office, call 617-266-0800, or purchase online at www.huntingtontheatre.org/.
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