Volume 17, Number 44 | March 24 - 31, 2005

Theater

Offering up the good stuff

Star of ‘Little Women’ talks about putting out the positive

By Art Swift

For singer/actress Maureen McGovern, now starring in the musical “Little Women” on Broadway, her music has never been just a way to sell records – it’s also a way to ease and heal ailments.

“I can’t tell you the letters I’ve gotten over the years that say they use ‘The Morning After’ on a looptape through surgery,” McGovern, 55, said in her dressing room at the Virginia Theater recently.

“The Morning After,” recorded in 1972, is the fiery redhead’s signature song, a number one single and Academy Award-winning theme from the disaster epic, “The Poseidon Adventure.” Most pop songs have a limited shelf life – the few lucky ones endure on oldies radio stations. Yet “The Morning After” provided a way for McGovern to make a significant impact on people’s lives.

The letters flooded in when she began singing the hit annually in 1979 on the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. And she discovered what she calls “the life-affirming power” of the song when her own niece was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy 14 years ago.

Because of her connections with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, McGovern was able to get her niece the best specialists and her niece’s affliction is in remission now, something that wouldn’t have been possible if diagnosed just a few years earlier, she said. But that first year her niece was sick, McGovern had a life-changing experience singing “The Morning After” at the telethon, one that shaped what she calls “the next chapter of my life.”

“I could barely get through it, when I sang the song. And that was my ‘a-ha’ moment. It’s like, this is what people get from this and it went full circle. It never reached my heart in a way like it had for others until I sang it that time.”

Since that performance, McGovern began a charitable foundation named the “Maureen McGovern Works of Heart Foundation for Music and Healing” and has recorded an album, “Works of Heart,” featuring songs with positive lyrics, she said.

“I don’t think there’s a good balance in things now, and so much of the music is negative or violent, even, and meaningless, to be truthful. There has to be a counterbalance to that. I think what you put out in the world comes back. And people who are sick, patients, need anything positive that they can get.”

“We’re all water and vibrations,” McGovern observed. “And so we respond to music in a very profound way. When I do a concert I always do something off-mike and acapella. And you can feel the entire room breathe with me. It’s an astounding experience.”

It is at those moments, she said, that she knows music has therapeutic powers. Her goal is to record an entire series of albums that are for pediatric oncology patients, Alzheimer’s sufferers, and those in mourning.

Speaking of positive, that’s just what she was on a recent matinee day for “Little Women.” Between performances, McGovern was alternately resting and attending to her foundation’s work. Standing radiant in a room filled with roses, chamomiles and carnations, she is thrilled to be back on Broadway for the first time since 1989 when she did “The Threepenny Opera.” She shows off her framed photos of zebras in a room adorned with ornamental flags which include Buddhist symbols for kindness and Balinese celebratory flags. 

“I’ve loved zebras, since I was a child. They have such a sense of whimsy and symmetry. I went to Africa seven or eight years ago and got to see so many zebras. I don’t believe in wallpaper; I like to have things from my life,” said McGovern.

McGovern is originating Marmee, the mother of Jo (Tony Award - winner Sutton Foster) and her sisters, in the adaptation of the classic book by Louisa May Alcott.

“What I love about Marmee is her compassion, her strength, her vulnerability, the juxtaposition of both, which you see in Jo and all the other girls, and her humor. She’s a wonderful character.”

The character of Marmee in the musical has been expanded from what can be found in Alcott’s novel or even in the several film versions. McGovern has two solos and does a good bit of acting, primarily with Foster, who snagged the Tony in 2002 for “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

“Sutton is amazing,” McGovern exalts. “She has a laser beam focus, so she is always present. A delight as an actor to work with. She is the driving force in this piece. When the train leaves the station, she’s the engine and off we go.”

The current ad campaign for “Little Women” trumpets the show as something mothers can take their daughters to. McGovern, who divorced around the time of “The Morning After” and has never remarried, herself has no children. She says she is devoted to her extended family who live in far-flung parts of the country, including her native Ohio.

For now, though, McGovern, who calls Los Angeles home but has a pied a tiere here in Manhattan, is committed to “Little Women” until June and is open to staying longer.

“As long as I’m having a good time, and I’m having a good time now.


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