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Hopelessly devoted to Olivia Newton-John

Denise Truscello
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I’m pretty sure that when most pre-pubescent boys watched Grease for the first time, they all wanted to be just like Danny Zuko. Memorably played by John Travola with his jet-black hair and sleek leather jacket, Zuko is the epitome of old-school cool when he’s charming the ladies of Rydall High School.

But I never cared much for Zuko or The T-Birds, his crew of fellow greasers. If we’re being completely honest here, I was and continue to be much more of a Pink Lady at heart, thanks in no small part to one Ms. Olivia Newton-John as Sandy Olsson. 

I was in love from the second she opened her mouth to reveal that unbearably adorable Australian accent. Paired with her girl-next-door looks and unabashed sweetness, Newton-John managed to nudge her way into my heart before the Grease title card even appeared. 

My love for the Aussie icon has only grown over the years. Whenever life gets rough, I know I can always pop in Newton-John’s campy roller-blading musical classic Xanadu to cheer me up. If I can’t decide which song to belt out during karaoke, “Summer Nights” is always my go-to choice for a sloppy duet with my friends. And right when I think I’m going to pass out during a run, “Physical” always pops up on my workout playlist to save the day yet again. 

So when Newton-John performed at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel Thursday night as a part of her 2016 World Tour, I felt like my heart might burst into a thousand shimmery pieces. I have no doubts that I was likely the youngest person in the 2,700-seat arena, with almost everyone around me either women in their forties wearing handmade ONJ t-shirts or older gay men who kept asking me if they could touch my hair. 

But when the queen herself appeared, it didn’t matter if you were 16 or 60. Because when Olivia Newton-John walks onstage wearing a white blazer and bedazzled black jeans, you stand up and applaud like your damn life depends on it. 

Opening with three delightfully dated tracks off of “Xanadu,” Newton-John had the crowd enthralled from her opening notes to the final bow. Composed of the film’s title track, “Magic,” and “Suddenly,” this trilogy set the mood for an evening that would be filled with a cheeky sense of humor and a whole lotta heart. 

While her acting roles in Grease and Xanadu may be some of Newton-John’s most noteworthy projects, she made sure to remind the crowd just how expansive and wide-ranging her fifty-year career is. 

Red Dirt Report's Keaton Bell with Olivia Newton-John. (Photo provided)

“Do you guys like country music?” Before Taylor Swift bridged the gap between country and pop, Newton-John started her career in the genre before attaining mainstream success. Bringing out her band to the center of the stage, she performed a stirring medley including a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” “Please Mr.,” and “If You Love Me.” One of her background singers even placed a sparkly cowgirl hat on Newton-John halfway through a song, unleashing that thousand-watt smile we’ve grown so accustomed to over the years. 

Even if our default image of Newton-John is one of a leather-clad bad girl at the end of Grease, the performer herself was never much of a troublemaker. While most of her musical contemporaries were making headlines for their diva antics or erratic personal lives, Newton-John has always been first and foremost about the music. She’s not a razzmatazz performer with slinky outfits and elaborate choreography, but a warm and gentle singer-songwriter who just wants to put a smile on your face. 

The closest she ever got to her Grease alter-ego was with her signature hit “Physical,” which she delightfully boasted was her only song to ever get banned from radio (“Compared to everything on the radio nowadays, it’s more like a lullaby!”). Seeing her do jumping-jacks and prance around the stage in her platform wedges while encouraging the crowd to sing along was one of the most endearing moments I’ve ever seen by a performer onstage.

And those moments only stacked up as the night went on. Maybe it’s just the way The Joint is set up or more do with Newton-John’s lovability, but the sense of camaraderie between her and the crowd made it easy to forget she was one of the best-selling musical acts of all time. There were the obvious bits of scripted stage banter, like when she asked the crowd how many times they’d seen Grease or asking the crowd if they were drinking yet (“As we say in Australia, bottoms up!”). But her smiles never felt fake and she radiated pure joy during the entire 90-minute set. 

That joy peaked during the latter half of the set when she walked offstage right as “You’re The One That I Want” started and one of her background singers took on Travolta’s vocal part. She reappeared donning a black leather jacket, looking just as stylish and eye-popping as she did back in 1978. Seeing her bop around to that track and “Summer Nights” was pure cheese from start to finish, and I was grinning ear to ear the entire time. People were dancing in the aisles and replicating the choreography from their seats, waving their hands in the air as they’d sing back “Tell me more, tell me more!” 

But when you weren’t taking part in communal sing-alongs or laughing at her little anecdotes, you were taken aback by the sheer vocal talent on display. When discussing great female vocalists, Olivia Newton-John isn’t brought up nearly enough. Songs like “Hopelessly Devoted To You” or “I Honestly Love You” would devolve into pure melodrama if it weren’t for her sugar-sweet soprano breathing life into them. 

No moment best captured her breathtaking vocals more than her encore of the Judy Garland classic “Over The Rainbow.” Wearing a gold gown that shimmered in the spotlight, Newton-John stood by the piano and gave a surprisingly soulful rendition on the classic tune. It was a moment of old-school glamour that felt like the ideal cap to an evening that felt like a celebration of her career from her humble beginnings to her vibrant present. 

Rather than overwhelm the audience with bells and whistles, Olivia Newton-John’s performance perfectly represented why audiences still adore her: she’s a charming woman with a lovely voice singing music from the heart. So can you imagine how hard I was shaking when I got the chance to meet up with her backstage after the show? I may’ve only said “hello, lovely to meet you” as I shook her hand, but internally I was trying to think of the best way to say “Please adopt me you Australian goddess.” 

Listening to her crystal-clear vocals took me back to when I was 8 years old watching Grease for the first time, admiring Sandy’s tasteful cardigans and luscious blonde locks, wishing I could one day be as perky and flawless as her. But while that may not’ve happened because my hair isn’t blonde enough, the good news is that Newton-John is still just as perfect as her onscreen counterpart. In fact, as her performance at The Joint demonstrated, she’s only gotten better, wiser, and somehow even more joyous with age. 

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About the Author

Keaton Bell

Born in Minnesota but raised in Oklahoma, Keaton is a senior at the University of Oklahoma...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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