Which Olivia Newton-John did you fall for?
The singer’s recent appearance on “The Talk” found her confronted by the show’s hosts, dressed in costumes representing her different career touchstones.
It was a reminder that come Tuesday, when the pop legend launches what could be the first of many shows at the Flamingo, you might be seated next to someone who came for the country-flavored Olivia Newton-John hits of the early ’70s.
Or someone who came of age in the early ’80s, just in time for MTV and the “Physical” phenomenon. Or the cheese-tacular “Xanadu.”
You might even be next to someone who knows the singer as an inspirational breast cancer survivor, and who attends her live shows in support of programs stemming from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia.
“Grease”? That’s a cross-generational phenomenon onto itself. If the 1978 movie musical that still draws young eyes was the only thing she ever did …
“It’d be plenty, wouldn’t it?” the 65-year-old star says by telephone. “I’m lucky I’ve had other things, too, that led me to that.”
The point is, to roll all these entry points into one show is kind of a good problem to have, right?
“It’s a wonderful problem,” she says. “I kind of take the audience on a journey through the different phases of my music. Not in order, necessarily.”
Newton-John is launching “Summer Nights” at the Flamingo on Tuesday, her first full shows since the brain-cancer death of her sister Rona last May.
“I’ve done it for so long, but it’s always a little nerve-racking coming back,” she says.
But, she adds, “I think there is a familiarity in performing that takes you to another place, and it’s a healing place for me. Music is healing for me. Initially I didn’t think I’d be able to sing, but now I realize it’s a way for me to heal and my sister would want me to do it. She loved Vegas.”
Newton-John was very close to signing the deal to perform at the Flamingo during weeks when Donny and Marie Osmond aren’t in town when news came of her sister’s diagnosis. “They were very nice in asking when I’d want to come back, and I couldn’t have done it before now.”
The Flamingo show will be slightly shorter than what fans have seen in other cities, but not drastically different. “When the people from the Flamingo came to see me (elsewhere) they bought my show, so I figured they liked it.
“I’m not a razzamatazz kind of person anyway,” she adds. Although she’s seen Celine Dion and Bette Midler across the street at Caesars Palace, “I don’t have dancers or any big productions like that. It’s me and my music, me and my band.
“My show is more about the music,” she adds. “I’ve been so lucky in my career I’ve had some amazing songs. And the songs are still great. Timeless.”
Not that Las Vegas hasn’t been at least an occasional part of her career from her earliest days.
The fledgling star was an opening act for Charlie Rich at the Las Vegas Hilton in the summer of 1974, just as the United States had been introduced to the Australian-raised beauty with the back-to-back hits “Let Me Be There” and “If You Love Me (Let Me Know).”
Her Top 40 run slowed down in the mid-1980s, and Newton-John was happy to focus on more personal musical projects such as “Gaia,” writing songs with spiritual themes inspired by her battle with breast cancer in the early 1990s.
Today she says she is fine with looking back musically rather than duking it out for a presence in today’s marketplace.
“Music is a part of my life but it’s not all of my life,” she says. Besides the Australian wellness program that carriers her name, she is the co-owner of a spa in Australia. She and husband John Easterling also are active in a company he founded to market herbal products from the Amazon rain forest.
Easterling has been “working for years to help indigenous people retain title to their land in the rain forest, and he has been bringing herbs from the rain forest in Peru for many years,” she says. “We have that wonderful connection. Nature to me is like, everything.”
She also works with programs to develop water wells for people who live on the Amazon and co-founded the One Tree Per Child tree-planting campaign. “Some of these kids had never seen trees. They live in concrete jungles,” she says.
Nature also falls close to home, or homes, in Australia, Florida and California. “We live outside of L.A. now,” she says of the latter. “We moved out into the country and I love walking in the woods and by the creek, and going to the market and buying fresh flowers and vegetables and just doing normal stuff. I like that. I like a normal life as much as I can.”
Still, this concrete jungle known as the Strip could challenge some of that normality for years to come. “Let’s see how it goes,” she says. “I better not count my chickens. Let’s talk in six months.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.