Sept 25, 2002
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By: Roger A. Galpin, #889
Olivia Newton-John took center stage Wednesday night, September 25, 2002, at the Houston Symphony Orchestra's Jones Hall. She returned to Houston, Texas for the first time in 20 years. The audience was definitely there for Olivia, although the Houston Symphony was in fine form as well. Olivia sang the first chord to "I Honestly Love You" acapela from off-stage. As she entered to thunderous applause, she looked absolutely breathtakingly beautiful dressed in a red tasseled and sequined gown, draped with a red tasseled shawl. She started with some old country classics ("If You Love Me," "Let Me Be There" and "Have You Never Been Mellow"), which were immediate crowd pleasers. She sounded wonderful.
She then went into some classics from the "Xanadu" soundtrack including the title, "Suspended in Time" and "Magic." It was a real treat to hear "Suspended in Time" as she's only done this live once before in her 2000 "Millennium" tour. The real highlight of this set came with the Punk-rock-meets-old-big-swing-band hit "Dancin'." Olivia explained she was thrilled to finally have an opportunity to sing this live with the help from the symphony. Olivia donned a feather boa and began bumping and grinding with her female backup singer while guitarist and backup vocalist, Andy Timmons, sang the punk rock lyrics originally performed by the Tubes. The Houston Symphony really helped bring this song to life with big band sound and jazz, and Olivia and her band were excellent. It sounded as good or better than the original soundtrack version and brought the audience to their feet at the end. She ended this portion of the concert with the timeless song "Suddenly" stating afterwards "what a beautiful song that is."
Olivia then pulled up stools as audience members shouted their happy birthday wishes to Olivia. She responded as a gift was handed to her "yea, another one snuck up on me." She surrounded herself with her band members for a set of some new songs and a couple reformatted classics. She started with "Please Mr. Please" in an acoustic guitar style that was packed with emotion. Next she performed a slower, jazzy version of her number 1 hit, "Physical." Olivia slipped in and out of upper octaves, singing this song in a sensual and beautiful style like never before. This again brought the audience to their feet. Olivia really showed her full vocal range on this arrangement. She then mentioned the difficult times that faced America a year ago and was relived over the current month and how difficult it was touring last year in the wake of the 911 attacks. She talked about Beth Neilson Chapman's loss of her spouse and a song she had written, "Sand and Water." Olivia performed this song in tribute to the 911 victims, survivors, families and heroes. It brought tears to many eyes and was clearly very emotional for Olivia. But in her true optimistic and never surrendering spirit, she stated that "we all go through difficult times; we cannot escape them. But what is important is to never give in to it," as the Symphony and band struck up "Not Gonna Give Into It." It was a beautiful contrast to the emotional tribute previously performed and illustrated the American spirit to not give into terrorists and to continue strong and proud as a nation.
Olivia then brought her lead backup male vocalist to the front, and together they sang her Daytime Emmy winning song, "Love is a Gift." This was the most beautiful and awe-inspiring version she has performed to date, live or otherwise. The audience gave her a unanimous standing ovation at the conclusion of this song, and eyes were moist all over the symphony hall. Their two voices harmonized and mixed perfectly in this emotional and soaring rendition. Olivia maintained her command over the audience with "Don't Cut Me Down." It was easy to forget the Symphony was even on stage behind her as she totally captivated the audience, although in truth several of her songs were enriched by their accompaniment.
Then the "Grease" set began. Olivia donned her leather jacket and began strutting around the stage to "You're the One that I Want" seeming just as young, vivacious and sexy as the day she filmed "Grease." After this song, she explained that filming the movie was not as glamorous as it seemed, joking that she "had to dance with John Travolta, sing with John Travolta, kiss John Travolta, and pretend to be hopelessly devoted to John Travolta." You guessed it. What followed was her Oscar nominated song, "Hopelessly Devoted to You," which again brought audience members to their feet. After this song she explained how phenomenal the "Grease" experience has been, including a Paramount party in California the night before to commemorate the DVD release of the movie. She asked the audience how many saw ""Grease" when it was first released, when it was re-released, how many had it on tape and had watched it more than once, and lastly how many remembered every word to every song. Of course the response was nearly unanimously "yes!" Olivia then quipped that we had "dug ourselves in deep" as we now had to help her and the band sing "Summer Nights." After a little rehearsing, the audience fell right in and the song was enormous fun. Near the end came the now famous "Ahhhhhh" that live audiences have shouted as Olivia pauses for a round of thunderous applause. This time, she had to laugh because the audience was a bit more loud and aggressive than usual, and she giggled "now there ready!" The conclusion of the set brought a unanimous standing ovation and several minutes of applause as Olivia and her band left the stage.
No Olivia concert would be complete, however, without Livvy's and our favorite song, "I Honestly Love You," which she performed in its original style, backed by the Houston Symphony. It was so beautifully performed and so emotionally charged, eyes all around the concert hall were again moist. 90 minutes had passed in almost a blink of an eye. It was sad to say goodnight to Olivia, especially since her visits to Texas have been infrequent. However, the time had come, and goodnight and goodbye it had to be. She had not the time to sing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," which was a little disappointing, and after much applause and shouts, she waved and left the stage.
Happy birthday, Olivia. Long life, good health and much success to you, and now that you see how much Houston adores you, don't wait so long to return.
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