Singer Maureen McGovern will serve as host and soloist in the… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
"Since I was a kid, I've lived for holiday songs, secular and nonsecular," Maureen McGovern said this week. "I'm what my mother called a sentimental slob."
The singer will get to slobber, so to speak, as much as she likes during the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2010 Holiday Spectacular, which will pack in a lot of secular and nonsecular seasonal favorites. McGovern, best known for the 1973 hit "The Morning After" from "The Poseidon Adventure," will serve as the production's host and vocal soloist.
"I feel very much at home," the singer said. "I've performed many times [in pops concerts] over the years with the glorious Baltimore Symphony."
Now in its sixth year, the colorfully staged and costumed Holiday Spectacular retains some popular portions each season, including tap-dancing Santas (students from the Baltimore School for the Arts). But there's always a fresh angle or two.
This time, in addition to McGovern's burnished voice, the production offers a dash of Las Vegas glitz from a Liberace impersonator and some "America's Got Talent"-certified celebrities: Tony Hoard and his super-trained dogs.
The old show-biz warning against sharing a stage with animals or children doesn't faze McGovern.
"I welcome it," she said. "What's special about this program is that there's literally something for the entire family. It's fun and silly and reverential. How often do you get a holiday show with the power of a symphony orchestra and that much variety of acts?"
In addition to such chestnuts as "O Holy Night" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," McGovern will sing a recent song by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene called "Mary, Did You Know?"
"Four or five years ago, when I was on a tour, I was packing one day and a country holiday special came on TV," McGovern said. "I was half-listening and half-packing. Then I heard Reba McEntire singing this song about Mary, and I stopped dead in my tracks."
During a career that spans four decades, McGovern, 61, has tried her vocal cords out on a wide-ranging repertoire.
"I started singing highly personalized folk music and protest songs," she said. "My first manager took me from that to singing mindless Top 40 covers in lounges. Then I was hired by 20th Century Records, sight unseen, in October 1972. In November, they sent me 'The Morning After.' They had wanted Barbra Streisand to sing it [for 'The Poseidon Adventure' soundtrack], but she turned it down — thank you, Barbra."
The song went on to win an Academy Award and became for McGovern a kind of musical signature. "I'm grateful to 'The Morning After.' It's nice to be known for something," she said.
Despite the success of that song and a subsequent appearance on the soundtrack of "The Towering Inferno" —"In the '70s, I was the queen of the disaster movie song," McGovern said — her career did not advance as she had hoped.
"It was frustrating and very limiting," the singer said. "My record company kept looking for 'Son of The Morning After.' My manager took 40 percent of my earnings, and I was flat broke at the end of the '70s. I got a job as a secretary."
There was a bright spot in 1980, when McGovern appeared as the singing nun in the now practically legendary "Airplane!" In a neat twist, the star of that comic picture was Leslie Nielsen, who had also captained the ill-fated Poseidon.
"I was only on the set for a week, but he was so nice," McGovern said of the actor, who died last month. "Of course, he had his famous whoopee cushion with him and was always using it. I was thrilled to do the definitive disaster movie and the definitive disaster movie spoof, and then move on."
The 1980s saw McGovern stepping into Broadway and also venturing into jazz. Over the years, she kept performing concerts, making recordings, appearing in musical theater. She also developed a one-woman, autobiographical show that has been successful around the country.
A recent album of songs from the '60s and '70s that influenced McGovern when she was growing up finds her voice remarkably rich, her styling deeply expressive. A follow-up to that recording and a collaboration with famed songwriter Jimmy Webb are among future projects.
Despite the occasional setback, McGovern has proved resilient — not surprising, considering her fortitude.
"In the third grade, I made a conscious decision to be a singer," she said. "I don't know how I knew this back then in Youngstown, Ohio, but I did."
If you go
The BSO Holiday Spectacular opens Friday and runs through Dec. 19 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. $16-$80. Call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.