Only Olivia Fan Club

Greatest Hits Tour 1999

Review: Newton-John sings older hits, pleases casino crowd

Jon Bream / Minneapolis Star Tribune

Olivia Newton-John was the Doris Day of her day. Whether she was doing country, disco or a movie musical, Newton-John was always that too-cheery, blue-eyed blonde stuck in the middle of the road with a smile on her face. A good 15 years past her heyday, she still seemed hopelessly cheery Thursday night at the sold-out Mystic Lake Casino Celebrity Palace Theater in Prior Lake.

And, at 50, Newton-John still looks the same -- those clear blue eyes and those straight blonde locks sculpted in a helmet around her shining face. Her voice hasn't changed, either. It's breathy and thin but emotive, with a piercing, effective high end. Even though she hasn't often toured during her career (she is doing only two weeks in the United States this year), she performed with a striking confidence that never came across when she played the big arenas back in the 1970s and early '80s. The 2,200 casinogoers seemed very pleased. Newton-John had recorded most of the material in her two-hour set between 1971 and 1981, but she also offered tunes from her '90s comeback albums, "Gaia" and last year's country effort "Back with a Heart."

Although she was friendly, she wasn't expansive about her life. She  mentioned her health problems (although did not specify that it was breast cancer) and confirmed that she's fine now. She also mentioned her 12-year-old daughter, and how the singer had done her first U.S. tour with Minneapolis musicians, but didn't mention her now-defunct kid's-clothing business, Koala Blue (there was one in the defunct Conservatory in downtown Minneapolis).

Newton-John, who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, was always kind of prim and proper (until she recorded the enticing aerobics anthem "Physical" in 1981). Her perky, middle-of-the-road charm worked onstage Thursday. She showed off her early country roots, doing Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and the gospelly "Banks of the Ohio" and offered a slightly jazzy treatment of "Over the Rainbow" and a nicely understated "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." And the new "Love Is a Gift" was a potential divalike big ballad, prudently rendered small to fit her voice.

Such Newton-John hits as "Have You Never Been Mellow," "Hopelessly Devoted To You" and "I Honestly Love You" sounded like mushy period pieces. When she tried to sound contemporary, she seemed out of character. The Latin-styled "I'm Not Gonna Give Into It" was Gloria Estefan with a white-bread voice, and a song about preserving trees (and long-term relationships) was tuneless and self-serious.

But when she teamed up with singer Lindsay Field for "Suddenly" (her hit duet with Cliff Richard) and Joe Creighton (in matching leather jackets) for "You're the One That I Want" (her "Grease" hit with John Travolta), Newton-John positively sparkled, singing into their eyes, radiating desire, devotion and delight that couldn't be denied.

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last updated January 13, 2003