Next week, Maureen McGovern will return to the site of her baptism.
Into theater, that is.
Ms. McGovern, a 64-year-old native of Youngstown, Ohio, has had a 40-year musical career that included singing the Oscar-winning songs “The Morning After” and “We May Never Love Like This Again,” Grammy nominations and starring roles on Broadway. On Monday, she will perform at The Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown, as part of the TRUST Cabaret Series presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
It was at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, appearing as Maria in a 1981 production of “The Sound of Music,” that Ms. McGovern first got her start in musical theater, she said in a phone interview this week.
By then, she’d already been up the charts — and back down.
Ms. McGovern, a self-described “shy performer” at first, grew up admiring singers such as Joni Mitchell and Carole King, and made her foray into a singing career through folk music. Then came her big break, when her song “The Morning After,” from the 1972 disaster film “The Poseidon Adventure,” reached the top of the Billboard charts in 1973. She also performed “We May Never Love Like This Again,” from the 1974 disaster film “The Towering Inferno,” which received another Academy Award.
It was success that should have propelled her to appearances on, say, “The Tonight Show,” Ms. McGovern said. But instead, in a move that remains somewhat puzzling to her years later, her management booked her for a month at the Trolley Bar Lounge in Green Tree.
From there, her career fizzled and her funds ran low. She made her way to Marina Del Ray, Calif., taking a job as a secretary, though she continued to travel occasionally out of the country, to places such as the Philippines, Japan and France, where she remained hugely popular.
“I’d be like Beyonce and Madonna and come back and be Glenda Schwartz at the typewriter,” she said, referring to the name she assumed.
A new chapter of her career took flight in 1980, when she appeared as the “Boy’s Life”-reading nun in the disaster flick parody, “Airplane!” The next year, she was cast as Maria in “The Sound of Music” for the Pittsburgh CLO, where she later starred in runs of “South Pacific” and “Guys and Dolls.”
It was the Maria role, however, that caused the biggest bounce for her career.
“I thought that would be a nice baptism into theater, and it certainly was,” she said. Three weeks after her musical debut, she debuted on Broadway, replacing Linda Ronstadt as Mabel in “The Pirates of Penzance.”
Since then, Ms. McGovern’s Broadway roles have included Luisa in “Nine,” as Polly Peachum in “3 Penny Opera,” and as Marmee in “Little Women, The Musical.” In addition to musical theater, her career has spanned genres ranging from jazz to big band, swing and cabaret.
“Music has been the air I breathe,” she said.
The key to making music into a career that can span four decades, she said, is “the old adage of never giving up.”
Ms. McGovern, who has long worked in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, said she is working on several new projects, including a show that will be a tribute to women singer-songwriters, a children’s jazz album and an American spirituals CD, plus a book titled “Surviving the Morning After” that she thinks will be released in 2014.
When she returns to Pittsburgh Monday, she’ll be giving a cabaret performance.
“I really love doing that, because it’s the freest of everything we do,” she said.
Tickets are $50 to $60, and are available at TrustArts.org, 412-456-6666 or at the box office at Theater Square, 655 Penn Ave.
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707.
First Published November 1, 2013 3:50 PM