Appreciate this first: Olivia Newton-John does not lip-synch. Try to pull a Britney with your close-up stretched across triple video screens and you’re likely a few shrimps shy of a full barbie, mate.
Amazing, isn’t it, that live singing counts as a plus now in an era of pop-star self-mimickers hiding limited talents inside protective technological armor? Let’s move on to just a lady, a microphone and a band/backup singers (with several production touches) as the Aussie pop chanteuse launches her limited residency, Summer Nights, through August at the Flamingo’s Donny & Marie Showroom.
Refreshingly simple in its staging, save for the screens also sprouting arty projections and clips chronicling her life, Summer Nights is a testament to how a Vegas headliner show need not be a bizarrely mega-produced ego circus. She walks out to applause. She curtsies with a beatific smile. She sings—with a voice that, while never powerful, has lost not a whit of ethereal sweetness and emotional intimacy, and, at age 65, can still toss a rope around those stratospheric notes.
Hits pour forth—the full scope of them rather startling until you recall the longevity she’s managed. We get Olivia from all sides: the country crooner (“If You Love Me (Let Me Know),” “Please Mr. Please,” “Let Me Be There”); the Xanadu oeuvre (title tune, “Magic” and the warm, buttery “Suddenly”); soft-pop pleasers (“Have You Never Been Mellow,” “I Honestly Love You,” “Sam” “A Little More Love”); the famous foray into carnal innuendo (a teasingly ballad-like intro that blasts off into the raucous “Physical”); and even takes on timeless standards (a heartfelt “Over the Rainbow,” a smoky-voiced interpretation of last-call lament, “Cry Me a River”—you’ve got to love a song with the lyric, “love was too plebeian”—and an achingly fragile “Send in the Clowns”).
Plus, there’s a personal grace note in her own composition, the uplifting “Not Gonna Give Into It,” recorded after chemotherapy for the breast cancer she overcame.
Naturally, a Grease segment with clips racing by on the monitors highlights the night, including “You’re the One That I Want” (dueting with a backup singer), “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “We Go Together” and an audience sing-along—with scrolling onscreen lyrics—to “Summer Nights.” Throughout the show, Newton-John kibitzes with the crowd, radiating gentle charm.
Rather than overwhelm an audience or deify its star, Summer Nights reflects what she has always been: a lovely woman with a pretty voice singing sweet ballads and catchy pop tunes without an ounce of artifice or affectation. Oh—and with a freshly scrubbed sexiness that’s even sexier—right up to today—for being so thoroughly unforced.
Anyone who can grow weary of the bombast on the Strip entertainment circuit—say, a critic—can consider Summer Nights a palate cleanser, leaving one feeling—forgive the mixed-metaphor, soap-ad lingo—dewy and fresh.
Amid a culture that worships trashiness and neglects classiness, Olivia Newton-John is a vital reminder:
This is what a lady looks like onstage.
Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.