The term “jukebox musical” may be used pejoratively in theater circles, but to call Maureen McGovern’s new Metropolitan Room cabaret act A Long and Winding Road a “jukebox show” is meant only as the highest praise. Over 80 minutes, McGovern uses her prodigious vocal instrument, interpretive skills, and inherent musicality to illuminate nearly two dozen songs written between 1960-1971.
These tunes, by such giants as Carole King, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and, of course, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, are hallmarks of their era, ranging from precise character studies to gentle fables, from protest anthems to love songs. McGovern not only does them justice, she often paints them in a new light — as in a light jazz top spin she serves on the Beatles’ comical “Rocky Raccoon.” Musical director Jeff Harris has pulled together some marvelous arrangements, and he and McGovern get first-rate assistance from bassist Jay Leonhart — especially on a charming “59th Street Bridge Song.”
Early on in the act, which has been co-created and directed by Philip Himberg, McGovern’s operatic voice threatens to overwhelm the material — although at least you can make out all the words to “The Times That Are A-Changin'” — but she quickly proves her subtletly with a truly gorgeous renditon of “The Circle Game.” One wishes she did more of Mitchell’s repertoire, based on her stunning takes on the singer-songwriter’s little-known anti-war song “The Fiddle and the Drum,” and the first verse of “Woodstock.”
McGovern’s comic chops aren’t limited to “Rocky Raccoon.” She produces a hilarious vocalese medley titled “Silly 60s Syllalable,” and finds the laughs in Tom Lehrer’s satiric masterpiece “The Vatican Rag.” But McGovern has always been a superb ballad singer, and, not surprisingly, she shines strongly on King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and Taylor’s beautiful “Fire and Rain.” Still, the true high point of the act comes towards its end as she tackles three Jimmy Webb tunes. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” becomes a perfect three-act play, while a medley of the early section of “MacArthur Park” and “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” is simply breathtaking.
I don’t think you have to be a “Baby Boomer” — like me or McGovern — to enjoy or appreciate the journey of this Long and Winding Road, but revisiting one’s past is certainly part of the fun!