Celine Dion show a slick, fresh celebration of live musicianship


It's simply her time.

Didn't see Frank Sinatra until he was so old he was coasting on memories. Never saw Elvis at all, so no International Hotel in 1969 for me. By the time I caught up to Wayne Newton in the '90s, he was already betrayed by his own vocal cords, no longer sounding like the "Midnight Idol" of Vegas legend circa 1980.

But if this hasn't happened already, it's sure to: "Celine" will be the single name associated with this era of Las Vegas, as Elvis, Frank and Wayne were with theirs.

For better or worse, Celine Dion's Colosseum at Caesars Palace vehicle will symbolize the corporate superstar production with outrageous ticket prices, but one fulfilling its end of the bargain with a slick, lavish custom showcase you can only see here. And there is still time to talk about it in the present tense.

If you see the singer this weekend, or again starting Feb. 22, you will be seeing her in her prime. Only video clips remain to remind us of the young power balladeer, tragically unhip compared to her peers of the '90s. "Where Does My Heart Beat Now?" Not anywhere near this song, thank you.

But the genius of this show is reaching beyond the star's own catalog of hits, as all good Vegas shows do. From Ella Fitzgerald to Michael Jackson and James Bond movie themes, there are songs for everyone to like.

And at 43, Dion is just the right age to sing them all. She is not yet facing the years of diminishing vocal power and is still young enough to flash some leg in her stiletto heels without inciting snickers (some would anyway, but they are not the ones buying tickets, and we shall respect that).

Sure it's slick and superficial, leaving family snapshots as a shortcut to any personal bond with fans, and only the selection of not one, but two friendless ugly-duckling '70s anthems ("At 17" and "Ben") for psychological insight.

But this show has to go wide. It will probably be the city's best entertainment news this year, just as it was when it opened last year. While it might be time to retire the preshow video montage of 2009 tour clips, the rest of it seems just-settled and fresh to be discovered.

This year's edition has two changes (and you can skip to the next paragraph if you don't want them spoiled). A holographic video of Andrea Bocelli replaces one of Stevie Wonder, allowing an electronic duet on "The Prayer." And "My Heart Will Go On" now pulls out the stops with an eye-popping update on Newton's "MacArthur Park" curtain of rain.

But what emerges from a second viewing is how veteran TV special director Ken Ehrlich provides a visual to go with almost every song, yet it doesn't come off as overkill in the manner of Dion's first Caesars Palace opus, "A New Day."

The underlying theme is a celebration of live musicianship; a flotilla of players, including a 16-piece string section, glide in and out on risers or pop up in small combinations. Cher covered her many costume changes with video. Celine yields the stage to three cellists sawing away at Michael Jackson hits, or backing singer Barnev Valsaint belting the Blood, Sweat & Tears chestnut "Spinning Wheel" with a hot horn section.

Oh yes, the star. Dion's voice still tends to skip the midrange, as so many power ballads do when their whispery verses explode into Olympian choruses. Dion tells us Carole King wrote "The Reason" for her, and you wonder if that mellow singer-songwriter penned it with those very low/high/nothing-in-between dynamics in mind.

Singing Eric Carmen's "All By Myself," Dion reaches with one hand to grab that word "self" and pull it right out of her gut. And when she blows the roof off with an extended "anym-o-o-o-r-e," she treats herself to a celebratory fist pump.

And yet she gamely branches into skat singing for "(If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)." And the peak of the evening isn't the obligatory "Titanic" theme, but the subdued French tear-jerker "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (known in English cover versions as "If You Go Away"). A black-and-white camera shot slowly crawls in time to catch the star shedding a tear, the $250 money shot.

Some fans on this night might have been disappointed that Dion stuck to scripted banter instead of going off on a tangent to unload what's really on her mind, as she has been known to do.

But they will come back. And if she does it next time, it will be one of those Vegas memories we talk about.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

 

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