Maureen McGovern at the Sunset.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Disaster is a word few artists want associated with their careers, but for Maureen McGovern calamity was the ticket to success.
The singer with the “Stradivarius voice” gained enduring fame with her first chart-topping hit “The Morning After,” the Oscar-winning theme from the 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure. She cemented her status as the diva of disaster flicks with another Oscar-winning hit, “We May Never Love Like This Again,” from 1973’s The Towering Inferno.
Over the past three decades McGovern has reinvented herself numerous times. She’s recorded several gorgeous jazz albums exploring American Songbook treasures and won two Grammys. She toured widely with legendary jazz singer Mel Torme, starred on Broadway, and performed in numerous acclaimed stage productions. These days the only disasters she’s associated with are the types that afflict humanity off-screen through her many benefit performances for organizations like Broadway Cares.
McGovern performs on Wednesday at the Sunset Center in an evening presented by The Friends of Sunset Foundation. The concert’s proceeds support the Ticket Grant Program, which provides Sunset tickets to low-income seniors, the hearing and visually impaired and students from low-income families who have shown talent in the performing arts.
“Every cause is worthwhile,” McGovern said in a recent phone interview. “I try to focus on things that really resonate with me. We just did a benefit in Manhattan, Songs for Darfur, which raised over $20,000 for pure drinking water and supplies for refugees.”
At the Sunset performance, pianist Jeff Harris will accompany McGovern (“He’s an entire orchestra, and an incredible songwriter,” she said). The first set features songs Richard Rodgers wrote with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. The second set is dedicated to the music of other great American composers such as Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington and Cole Porter.
“When I work with material like this, I don’t make it a museum piece,” McGovern said. “I focus on what’s relevant today about these songs, and why we still love them. I’m a storyteller. I love something with a beginning, a middle and an end.”
No matter how far she’s come from The Poseiden Adventure, McGovern continues to occupy a special place in American pop culture’s pantheon. In an episode of “The Simpsons” parodying the film, Lisa sings a hilarious tune as portentous as “The Morning After” as cloyingly optimistic. And in a classic “South Park” episode, an evil spirit controls Chef by singing “The Morning After.” McGovern hasn’t seen either show, but she beat them to the punch, parodying her disaster pedigree as the guitar-strumming singing nun Sister Angelina in the film Airplane.
“We’re immortalized in so many ways,” McGovern says with a laugh. “Seriously, I’ll be eternally grateful for ‘The Morning After.’ I’m still receiving letters from people who were moved by the song.”
Still, it took almost a decade for McGovern to escape her early pop success and start making the kind of music that she wanted. Dropped by her label, she made a spectacular comeback with Another Woman in Love, an exhilarating standards session featuring pianist Mike Renzi.
“Just with piano and voice, how daring!” McGovern said. “It’s a very naked, heartfelt way of performing. With Mike or Jeff Harris, we think as one, breathe as one, and change things at will.”
MAUREEN MCGOVERN performs 8pm on Wednesday, May 2, at the Sunset Center, San Carlos between Eighth and Ninth, Carmel. $57-$87. 620–2048, sunsetcenter.org.