OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN
Adelaide Festival Theatre
Sun June 13 2011
“Maybe I hang around here a little more than I should…” the voice from off stage is unmistakable. Olivia Newton John singing a refrain from one of her biggest hits. The Adelaide art orchestra and Olivia’s regular band (including long time Bowie bass player the barefoot Gail Ann Dorsey) have taken their places and the near sell out audience is a-quiver with anticipation.
The collective musician’s then strike up Have You Ever Been Mellow the breezy country hit from 1975 and Ms Newton John struts onto the stage looking a million bucks. Waving, huge smile beaming, her voice is great and the audience gives her a thunderous welcome. A Little More Love has people clapping along, and the usherettes rushing to tell people off for taking photos on their phones (and in one instance trying to get an autograph mid song). Sam from 1977 is next and it’s a bit cheesy but a lot of music from 1977 was, but Olivia makes it quite beautiful in a way I have never considered the song before. Xanadu comes next with the orchestra subbing brilliantly for the ELO and by the end of the song Newton John’s voice which was strong but struggling slightly with the high notes, has warmed up and now she is soaring. Two more songs from the same soundtrack follow Magic and Suddenly. Both are met with rapturous applause. The Cliff Richard part of the Suddenly duet is taken by a backing singer who is pretty per functionary, but does give me some unintended giggles with the clumsy Johnny Young Talent School hand gestures and choreography with Olivia.
I always forget that her early career was as a country singer. In the early 1970’s she was an Aussie girl living in London and having hits in Nashville. So these are mostly clumped together. If Not For you, Let me Be There, Please Mr Please, Jolene, If you Love Me and Don’t Stop Believing. It was fun and a bit of a sing-a-long (why can’t Australian audiences clap in time?).
The band start playing a slow Latin take of Physical, before ONJ stops them with pre-planned ‘Let’s do it the original way’. It’s during this song the first outbreak of dancing is lead by a gentleman in the sixth row I shall now dub Mr Fabulous. He’s having a ball. It’s Livvy. She’s singing Physical and he’s going to DANCE! Tepid joining in soon leads to most of the crowd on their feet dancing. Soon we are following aerobics instruction from Olivia and some people in the front row get to sing into her mic (nice going George). After this excitement everybody needs a rest and sits back down for two newer songs which are both about her struggle with breast cancer and the changes that have lead to in her life. Help me Heal and Not Gonna Give in to it, have both become anthems for people fighting cancer and to those who have lost people they care about to the disease. Keeping the atmosphere melancholy and as a nod to the fact this is a cabaret season she tackles Judy Garlands Over The Rainbow with flying colours.
Through out she tells little stories and excuses herself when she needs a sip of water. Even at sixty three years old she remains the perennial Aussie girl next door. The orchestra is somewhat under utilized to be honest. They did recreate the orchestrations that were on the originals but could have been used more effectively in other areas. In fact I was horrified when one number had synthesized strings its beginning, when there was a whole orchestra sitting behind the keyboard player with nothing to do. But that and the fact there was no merchandise (no t-shirts, posters or programmes) were really my only quibbles all evening.
Running out of time now and there’s still so many songs to do. How will ONJ do it? With a montage of course. Well it’s a medley. There is string of truncated hits in quick succession (The Rumour / Make a Move on Me / Totally Hot / Deeper than The Night / Twist of Fate). The last song in particular is a corker. From the 1983 movie that tried to recreate the on screen chemistry with John Travolta, movie was a not a hit but the single was. And speaking of Mr Travolta.
Olivia, her guitarist and her backing singers are donning leather jackets that can only mean one thing. They are starting the campest bikie gang ever. No wait it’s the songs from Grease! Now you maybe surprised that for many years these songs (with the exception of Hopelessly Devoted) were missing from Olivia’s set list. But not tonight. Outgoing Cabaret Festival director, David Campbell appears in a matching jacket and the two of them belt out a fantastic You’re the One that I Want, complete with dance moves, choreography and goofy expressions (mainly from Campbell). It blows the roof of the joint. People quite rightly go bananas. It is just plain fantastic. Olivia is having a ball and we are right there with her. A mass sing-a-long on Hopelessly Devoted and then boys vs girls on Summer Nights are likewise excellent and have everyone on their feet – again led by Mr Fabulous. They finish with the closing song from the movie We Go Together and as we are all singing along and dancing in our seats Olivia turns and waves as she leaves the stage.
An avalanche of applause brings her back for a two song encore. Grace & Gratitude from the 2006 album of the same name and finally I Honesty Love You.
After over ninety minutes of hits, sing-a-longs and dancing (lead of course by Mr Fabulous) everybody streams out into the night singing bits of Xanadu or Hopelessly Devoted.
Have You Ever Been Mellow
A Little More Love
If Not For You
Let Me Be There
Please Mr Please
If You Love Me
Don’t Stop Believing
Let’s get Physical
Not Gonna Give In To It
Help Me Heal
Over the Rainbow
Medley: The Rumour /Make a Move on me / Totally Hot / Deeper than the Night / Twist of Fate
You’re The One That I Want (with David Campbell)
We Go Together
Grace and gratitude
I Honestly Love You