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Elizabeth Ahlfors

“The Stradivarius Voice”

Maureen McGovern with “Home For The Holidays ”
54 Below, 254 West 54 Street
Opened December 18, 2012
Dec. 18 at 9:30PM; Dec. 19-23 at 7:00 at 7:00PM; Dec. 22 at 10:00PM
Music Charge $50 - $60. $30 food and beverage minimum
Closes December 23, 2012
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors December 19, 2012

Maureen McGovern

“Without hope, the human heart will die,” Maureen McGovern commented, bringing an evening of hope through her lustrous voice – a four-octave powerhouse of warmth and clarity – into a season burdened with difficult and heartbreaking moments. Animated, she swept onstage and joined her two fine accompanists, Jay Leonhart on bass and musical director, Jeff Harris, with buoyant jazz flavoring in a songbook of holiday tunes and optimistic standards.

Included early in the show was a nod to the 40th anniversary of her first big hit, “The Morning After,” (from “The Poseidon Adventure”), particularly timely with its message of resilience. A mix of spirited and sentimental tunes filled the 70 minute show, with McGovern’s most heartfelt moments apparent in, “Mary, Did You Know?” and a tender, a cappella, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” as meaningful in today’s precarious world as it was in the 1940’s. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and her salute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, “Ordinary Miracles,” also held onto the theme of hope and comfort.

Since the season also calls for joy and good humor, tying the story of “The Night Before Christmas” to the tune of “Chopsticks,” (together you can call them, “Christmas Chopstix”) lifted the spirits. Leonhart lent his own sly characterization to a duet with McGovern in, “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Her voice secure and limber, McGovern acknowledged her first appearance at 54 Below, swinging and scatting an up-tempo, “Very First Christmas” by Judy Barron and Mike Renzi. They set a wintry mood with a jazz waltz mix of “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” Saluting her mentor, Mel Torme, she added his holiday chestnut, “The Christmas Song” and a non-holiday Rodgers and Hammerstein theater song that fits the season is “My Favorite Things,” a McGovern favorite that she delivered with jazzy ebullience.

Recalling memories of Christmases of her childhood was McGovern’s lyrical, “Toyland,” with Harris and Leonhart’s merry-go-round accompaniment. Her patter was conversational and tied with bits of unusual tunes like Tom Lehrer’s “The Vatican Rag” and “(I’m Spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica.” McGovern, who has described herself as an actor who sings, spoke of her years on Garrison Keillor’s radio show and sprightly sang the tale of “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake,” aka Irish fruitcake. Another crowd-pleaser was songwriter Patti McKenny’s gastronomical take on Christmas with “The First Nouvelle,” including lines like, “Slivers of squash in a light béchamel/ toast to our health with a light Zinfandel.”

Skimming through the octaves with ease and impressive breath control, McGovern sang a poetic, “O Holy Night” and encouraged the audience to join her in Irving Berlin’s, “White Christmas.” This performer who is outstanding in so many musical genres, theater (“The Pirates of Penzance,” “Little Women”), concerts, recordings, jazz, pop and cabaret, is commanding as she inhabits her lyrics with understanding and joy. Confident, breezy, amiable and classy, Maureen McGovern delightfully mixed the many moods of the holiday season.

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