Only Olivia Fan Club

Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, PA

Sept 13, 2002

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Post Gazette  Sept 13 2002

  By Ed Masley

If you're thinking of going to check out Olivia Newton-John tonight performing with the Pittsburgh Symphony, but you're worried she won't be doing "I Honestly Love You," "Hopelessly Devoted to You," "Have You Never Been Mellow" or whichever of her 28 Top 40 hits is your personal favorite, you'll be happy to know that the Artist Formerly Known as Sandra Dee has a healthier attitude than most when it comes to the hits that have come to define her career

"I like to do the hits," she says, "because I know they're why people come, and I'm lucky enough to have them."  She even recorded an all-new version of her first chart-topping single, "I Honestly Love You," back in 1998, with Babyface on harmonies. "I've always loved the song so much, and I think I was nervous that somebody else was gonna do it," she says with a laugh. "So I thought, 'I'll jump in and do it beforehand.' And then David Foster loved it and said that he would produce it, and it was a wonderful opportunity." 

While "I Honestly Love You" seems a perfect fit for a symphony show, there are some other, more up-tempo hits that may not work so well. "I'll either do them just with the band," she says. "Or I won't do them." One up-tempo hit she's almost sure to do is her big duet with John Travolta from "Grease," "You're the One That I Want." The singer still looks back on "Grease" as the most exciting chapter in her musical career.

"It was such a huge thing," she says. "A really huge movie, huge album and everything in my life kind of went to another level. Every part of my career has been interesting and fun in different ways -- even in the very beginning when I was just working dives. It was exciting because it was new. But 'Grease' was probably the most all-encompassing and exciting period." It's still huge.

"I'm not surprised anymore because it's been happening for 23 years," she says. "I find it quite amazing that it's still going, and I think now it's just gonna be one of those things that young kids discover every three years, the next batch."

She herself re-discovered a batch of songs she'd forgotten about while compiling material for a box set due next year to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of her first gold record, "Let Me Be There." With a laugh, she says, "Don't ask me what they're called now, but there was a lot of stuff that I'd totally forgotten about that the fans said they wanted to hear. And some of them will probably make it to the box set."

When she isn't working on her box set, though, the singer doesn't often listen to her records.  "Now," she says, "I can listen without really cringing too much because I think for the first 20 years, you probably want to redo everything you've ever done and then you get older and wiser and realize 'Listen, it was fine for then.' I feel very proud of those records, especially the ones John Farrar wrote for me and produced because he was such a wonderful writer and producer. They still stand up."

But even in the midst of gathering 30-odd years of recordings together for a box set, Newton-John is moving on with an album of duets. The lineup mostly comprises Australian singers, but Michael McDonald and Richard Marx are also on the record.  "I did it in Australia and here in America over the last two months," she says. "It's been a real whirlwind, and we're gonna be finishing up a couple tracks on the road on my days off. I'll be zooming here and there to record with people."

Mostly, though, she'll be spending her time reinventing her hits on a symphony tour.   "Last year, I did two or three," she says. "And we decided this year to make the whole tour that way because I enjoyed it so much. It's lush, it's rich and it gives the songs a new sound. I've performed them for so long that it's nice to go out there and have them take on a new sound -- for me as much as anybody else."

With thanks to Patrick Hnidka

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