Olivia Newton-John salvages postponed concert with Q&A session

Olivia Newton-John performs live in concert.
Olivia Newton-John performs live in concert.

Those who attended the scheduled Olivia Newton-John concert March 25 at Pala Casino only heard one full song and part of a second song from her, but Newton-John may have been the most disappointed person there.

After Newton-John realized that her “croaky” voice would preclude her from giving the quality concert the fans deserved, she apologized and promised to make it up to everybody. She then used the next 35 minutes for a question and answer session which allowed audience members to know more about her and gave some the opportunity to speak to her and to be photographed with her, and many came away just as satisfied as if they had heard a full concert.

The concert was scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. Newton-John and her band began the music at 8:20 p.m. Her first song was “Have You Ever Been Mellow”, and she stopped after the first couple of lines.

“I just got back from South America and I caught something on the plane,” she said. “I’ll do my best.”

The degradation in her voice was evident. After completing her first song she began singing “Xanadu” but stopped midway in the song. “I don’t want to sing this badly,” she said.

The primarily-older audience knows Olivia Newton-John for songs other than what she sang as Sandy in the movie “Grease”, but just as Sandy’s Rydell High School classmates who struggled to pass tests would likely do so by whatever means possible, Newton-John intended to make the audience happy by whatever means possible and that wasn’t limited to the promise of a makeup concert at a date to be determined.

Newton-John is now 67 years old. She noted that she was 29 when Grease was filmed in 1978. “It was an amazing experience filming Grease,” she said. “I was very nervous about doing it.”

One reason for her nervousness is that she had previously acted in the movie “Tomorrow”, in which extraterrestrial aliens kidnap a musical group so that their planet can be saved with music. “Because of that I was pretty nervous about making a movie,” she said.

Newton-John was also unsure whether she could pass for an 18-year-old in Grease and she was concerned whether she could speak without her Australian accent. She felt the questions could be answered by having a screen test with co-star John Travolta. “They did give that screen test and they told me I could have an Australian accent,” she said.

Newton-John enjoyed the filming of Grease. “What you saw in the movie was what was going on. It was a lot of energy and great feeling,” she said.

Newton-John’s movies also included the 2000 film “Sordid Lives”. “Sordid Lives was a lot of fun,” she said.

Sordid Lives was written by Del Shore, who is gay. “He said that he stayed straight for many years because of me,” Newton-John said.

The movie involves a family dealing with a death. “I was very thrilled to be a part of that movie because I think it helped a lot of people,” Newton-John said. “It actually showed me a lot about human nature.”

Newton-John has been singing since her early childhood and began singing for compensation when she was 14. When she was 15, she and the rest of her group successfully competed for a prize, which were a television show and a trip to England. “We started working around England and Europe and all of the bases, American bases, around Europe,” she said.

Xanadu was released in 1980 and was Newton-John’s first film since Grease. “Xanadu was a lot of fun. The script, again, was being written every day,” she said.

Gene Kelly also starred in Xanadu. “Dancing with Gene Kelly, that was something,” she said. “I was not a dancer. I had three months or four months of tap dance lessons.”

Her dancing skills had improved by the time she danced with Kelly during the production of Xanadu. “He directed that scene, so he wanted everything to be in one shot,” she said.

The title track from Newton-John’s album “Physical” spent ten weeks as the #1 single between November 1981 and January 1982. “When I recorded that song, I knew it was a good song,” she said.

Newton-John then starred in a video for Physical. “That made it even bigger,” she said.

When Newton-John was singing country music during the mid-1970s several of her songs peaked in the top ten on the charts. She noted that her manager guided her towards the country genre. “He loved cowboy music and he thought my voice suited it,” she said.

In 2015 Newton-John and her daughter, Chloe, recorded “You Have To Believe”. “It was a delight for me,” Newton-John said.

You Have To Believe became the first song performed by a mother and daughter to reach the top position on the charts. “It went to number one, who would have guessed,” Newton-John said.

“I would love to be singing these songs for you, I really would,” Newton-John said.

“I thought: ‘I’m going to try’. It’s a disaster,” she said. “I’ve never missed a show this way.”

Newton-John has been active in combatting AIDS and noted that she began that effort after her makeup artist and hairdresser died of that disease. “It really began because of the loss of a dear friend,” she said.

She was asked whether there was an “Olivia Newton-John vault” of unreleased songs which would be publicly available in the future. “There are some, I think, not that many,” she said. “We will eventually do that.”

Newton-John was asked about her favorite song to sing. “Tonight any song would be good,” she said.

“You’ll hear me sing eventually when my voice is back,” Newton-John said. “For all of you, I promise I’ll work it out with Pala that I’ll do another show with you.”

Newton-John had seven accompanying band members, and the final 15 minutes allowed the backup singers and other musicians the opportunity to perform three songs. “I have an amazing band,” she said.

Newton-John was disappointed that she couldn’t fulfill the expectations of a full concert, but she recognized the value of the question and answer session. “This is really me,” she said. “Now people are connecting back to me. It’s really special.”

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