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Stage Review

A winding trip down McGovern’s memory lane

Maureen McGovern puts her life front and center in “A Long and Winding Road’’ Maureen McGovern puts her life front and center in “A Long and Winding Road’’ (Eric Antoniou
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By Don Aucoin
Globe Staff / October 16, 2009

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It’s probably time to forgive Maureen McGovern for “The Poseidon Adventure’’ (though I still have a bone to pick with Ernest Borgnine).

McGovern, of course, sang “The Morning After,’’ that waterlogged disaster movie’s unforgettable (try though we might) theme song. Now she has come to Boston with “A Long and Winding Road,’’ a musical memoir of her own life and the collective experience of the baby boom generation.

As generational history, “A Long and Winding Road’’ is thin and cliched, overly reliant on the invocation of played-out boomer touchstones (where were you when JFK was assassinated, weren’t the Beatles dreamy, that sort of thing). But as a chronicle of her own up-and-down showbiz career and her bumpy-but-dogged journey toward self-knowledge, “Road’’ has surprising potency.

This is especially true when McGovern sings, for her voice remains, at 60, powerful, supple, and expressive. It has to be, because the song list for “Road’’ reads like a greatest-hits playlist for an unimaginative oldies station: “Let It Be,’’ “You’ve Got a Friend,’’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,’’ “America,’’ “If I Had a Hammer,’’ “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).’’ Your eyes are rolling right now, aren’t they? When you hear McGovern deliver these songs, though, it’s a reminder of how well-constructed they are, and how much they deserve to live on. Well, maybe not “Feelin’ Groovy.’’ And I longed for Bob Dylan’s raspy croak as I listened to McGovern’s too-pristine version of his anthem of youthful rebellion, “The Times They Are A-Changin’. ’’

But it’s easy to see why McGovern is such a highly regarded cabaret performer: She knows how to navigate a song’s emotional peaks and valleys, and she knows, too, how to woo and win an audience with self-deprecating humor and unabashed corn. The structure of “Road’’ is simple: McGovern reminisces, sings, and tosses off observations while a backdrop features images of social change (antiwar rallies, protests on behalf of civil rights, gay rights, and women’s rights) and personal change (photographs of herself through the years, from gawky preteen to flaxen-haired folkie). She got the idea for “Road,’’ she tells us, when she was hospitalized - she’s fine now - and asked herself: “How did the young girl with the guitar become the old girl on the gurney?’’

“A Long and Winding Road’’ gives us a few answers to those questions while making clear that the old girl is still plenty spry. In decidedly non-chronological fashion (“Welcome to the iPod shuffle that is my mind,’’ she says), McGovern tells of her Catholic girlhood; her clash over the Vietnam War with her beloved father; the breakthrough success of “Morning After’’ while she was going through a divorce; and her forays into theater, jazz, and the Great American Songbook.

McGovern brings a purity of voice to songs as various as “White Cliffs of Dover’’ and Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game,’’ marches stirringly through Gil Turner’s “Carry It On,’’ and utterly nails the buoyant defiance of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.’’ By show’s end, McGovern does launch into “The Morning After.’’ And you know what? It sounds pretty good.

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.

A LONG AND WINDING ROAD

Performed by: Maureen McGovern

Created by: McGovern and Philip Himberg

Directed by Himberg. Musical direction, Jeffrey Harris. Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company.

At: Wimberly Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, through Nov. 15.

Tickets $20-$60, 617-266-0800, www.huntingtontheatre.org.

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