Shania Twain’s Las Vegas show ‘Still the One’ full of fun, surprises

So how over the top is this Shania show?

So over the top that we start to expect more than what’s already there.

Around the halfway point, when we’ve seen the flying motorcycle entry and the Western saloon set both inside and out, there comes a video that seems to be up to more than showing us how sexy a 47-year-old can be.

These images of Shania and a leopard friend, with her in matching Frederick’s of Hollywood leopard print (occasionally topped with hot librarian glasses), can only be leading to one place.

She’s gonna walk out with that big ol’ leopard out on a leash, right? Because she already rode into the saloon set on a horse, right?

Not yet, guys. But don’t rule it out down the road.

"Still the One" is otherwise just about everything it can and should be for Shania Twain as a comeback vehicle. It’s big, fun and full of surprises, the kind of show Ann-Margret wishes she could have done in the ’70s.

And if Ann-Margret could still step in and pinch hit, not much would really have to change. Twain and her collaborators seem to realize the singer is a lot of things to a lot of people, but none of them involve a sacred artistic vision. She’s a blank canvas, really.

If you see Twain as a beautiful woman of average voice, who happened to land right place/right time/right sound to mash up country and pop culture in the ’90s, nothing here will change your mind.

But if her songs happened to hit you somewhere deeper than the dance floor of a country singles bar? If you grew up thinking of her as a real person with something substantial to say? No worries. You still can, because it’s clear Shania still cares about you.

Folks in the latter camp turned out to support Twain on opening night Saturday, the first of 60 planned shows in two years at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. But even on this special night, they seemed to be a minority.

There should still be enough diehards to easily fill 4,200 seats. But pop is transient, and suburban teens now live in Taylor’s world. If bets need hedging to reacquaint the larger world with Shania, they are with the universal appeal of this kitschy spectacle Las Vegas is uniquely suited to deliver, but only producer AEG Live has been willing to step up and do.

The show opens with giant widescreen video of Shania on a horse that somehow morphs into a motorcycle, racing like the T-Mobile Girl at warp speed out of the desert and into – cut from video to the real stage – an aerial descent from the rafters atop the custom bike.

She gets off, shakes out the hair extensions and gets to work in superhero thigh boots and a disco-ball Catwoman suit, as musicians ride in on luminescent puffy blobs that appear to have been rescued from the Yes "Tales of Topographic Oceans" tour.

Director Raj Kapoor brings good ideas to the mix, such as a corps of nine fiddlers working the giant stage for this opening blast of "I’m Gonna Getcha Good!" and "You Win My Love."

Kapoor isn’t afraid to go full-on ’70s TV variety when the scene changes to a cowboy Western set. Twain rides up to the saloon on a real black horse, workin’ some pink cowboy boots and a sparkly matching top. As she lingers on the porch to sing "No One Needs to Know," the cowpokes lift her up and give her a genuine Ann-Margret, head-down dip.

But we’re not done. The saloon façade gives way to the Western movie interior, complete with bar, bartender and honky-tonk piano for "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?"

We’re clearly in Cher territory here, with the visuals far more interesting than the actual singing. Twain battled back from severe vocal problems to sing forcefully enough, though with limited range and with her leads often blended with backup singers and/or nestled under the surface of the thick arrangements.

The tour’s title ballad, "Still the One," is probably Twain’s most universal hit and the most stripped down. But even from this simple song we are sufficiently distracted. In true singing cowboy tradition, Twain croons this ballad to a white horse. In true Stevie Nicks tradition she is doing this barefoot, in shimmering white, as woman and steed circle the stage amid a confetti snowfall.

But Twain, Kapoor and company have bettered the Cher formula on all fronts. The musicians and singers move around the stage and create action rather than just framing the star. And the star is fully engaged, really wanting this to work.

One segment alone keeps Twain from coming off as Country Barbie and the whole enterprise from dissolving as cotton eye candy. The stage is revealed as a campfire scene, complete with fire and the smell of smoke. (Yes, it’s piped through the ventilation system).

Twain comes out, chats a little about her crazy life – "I have a tendency to talk a lot," she notes – sings a capella with two male singers and then introduces her sister, Carrie Ann Brown. The two once aspired to be a duo, she explains, but haven’t sang together since they were kids.

Then it’s time to bring up some fans, hear their stories and park them on the fake boulders to help out with "Come On Over."

So here it is, a few unscripted moments and a real, anchoring look at the person behind the fake eyelashes that she keeps saying will fall off if she cries, all of it taking place on an elaborate Hollywood soundstage version of the great outdoors.

Reviewers are paid to cook up metaphors on their own. But when it comes to summing up the genuine artifice of "Still the One," that pretty well says it better than anything else I could add.

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

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