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Maureen McGovern Heads Home for the Holidays at 54 Below

The popular singer talks about her favorite holiday music, working with Mel Tormé, and the Jerry Herman musical she'd love to do on Broadway.

Best known for her recordings of the Oscar-winning singles "The Morning After" (from The Poseidon Adventure) and "We May Never Love Like This Again" from (The Towering Inferno), Broadway veteran Maureen McGovern (Little Women) is bringing her seasonal concert, Home for the Holidays, to 54 Below from December 18-23. At a recent press preview for the show, TheaterMania caught up with the singer to discuss her love of happy holiday songs, working with the late Mel Tormé, and when she might return to Broadway again.

Maureen McGovern on stage at 54 Below.
(© David Gordon)

What can audiences expect from your 54 Below concert?
I consider it a holiday spa experience. There are some traditional songs, some silly songs, and some inspirational songs. It's just nice and relaxing. I want it to feel like I'm putting a warm blanket around you.

Define "silly songs."
There's "I'm Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica," by Tom Lehrer. I love him. There are also a couple things I did on Garrison Keillor's show a couple of years ago: "Mrs. Fogarty's Christmas Cake," and "The First Nouvelle," which was written for Garrison.

Do you love singing holiday songs?
I sang in a grade school choir at St. Dominic's, and we sang morose Catholic songs all year. So we got to Christmas, and we got to sing something joyous, and I loved it. Everybody does their obligatory holiday album and I guess I was an elf in another age because I have hundreds of Christmas albums at home, so I approach these songs with a joy and sense of wonder and whimsy and great fun, and not as museum pieces.

Do you have a favorite?
Yes! Mel Tormé was my mentor and we did PBS specials and we toured together and I just adored him. He was the finest singer to grace the planet. And he wrote not only a great Christmas song, but a great song: "The Christmas Song," (‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire'). Do you know the story behind it?

I can't say that I do…
His lyricist, Bob Wells, lived in the San Fernando Valley. Mel went over to Bob's house on one of those 115 degree days; Bob was upstairs and said he had to lie down. As Mel was wont to do, he wandered over to the piano where there was a piece of paper that said "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire/Jack Frost nipping at your nose/Yuletide carols being sung by a choir/And folks dressed up like Eskimos." So when Bob came down, he said, "Bob, what is this?" and Bob said, "It's so hot that the only way I could cool myself off was to write about something cold." It was never intended it to be a Christmas song, but 40 minutes later, it was born.

What do you have planned for the New Year?
I'm working on a couple of shows. In January, we make a big announcement about me and some other Broadway divas doing a project together which I'm really, really, really excited about. And I'm working on a memoir. I have a one-woman show that's a musical memoir called Carry It On and this will be a counterpart to that.

Any upcoming Broadway plans?

Not specifically, but I would love to be back on Broadway. I would love to do Dear World, which I did at Sundance [in 2002]. I think it's one of Jerry Herman's best scores. The music is exquisite, and I had a great time being Aurelia.