When you're singing torch and cabaret ballads from the heydays of mid-century Hollywood movies, it helps to have a little ol' Hollywood-style orchestra tucked away in a corner for back-up. It also helps if the cozy cabaret you're singing in seats a couple of thousand fans and has splendid acoustics.
Maureen McGovern had just that kind of help for her concert on February 20 at the Palace Theatre and she made the best of it, delivering an array of familiar and fabulous tunes lifted primarily from Golden Age Hollywood movies. McGovern claims she began her career as a "folk singer with a guitar," but her subsequent path has been pure movie and pop success, beginning with the Academy Award-winning "The Morning After," the theme from The Poseidon Adventure, through music from Towering Inferno. and Superman to Airplane!, wherein she poked fun at her reputation as a singer in "disaster movies" by playing the part of the guitar-playing, singing nun.
Adding in the experiences from her Broadway roles, McGovern's range of choices of material was broad; her stagecraft and song stylist skills were superb. She did a number of medleys, including tributes to songwriters Y. A. "Yip" Harburg and Harold Arlen. She offered a splendid rendition of "Summertime," and an unamplified a cappella version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that was a proverbial show-stopper.
The pleasure of watching and listening to such a exquisitely talented and trained performer is muted only by the fact that the show had to end. Nevertheless, no-one left the theatre dissatisfied.
The Louisville Orchestra, which provided McGovern's cabaret-style orchestral backup, opened the evening with a series of baseball-related pieces, including a sing-a-long: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Guest conductor Robert "Bob" Bernhardt handled the conducting chores, other than when he turned the baton over to special guest conductor Bill Hartman, Bank One, Kentucky chairman and CEO. Perhaps the Louisville Orchestra can raise a bit of money by offering more such opportunities, say a Conductor's Fantasy Camp. It would go perfectly well with the Bernhardt's baseball enthusiasm.