Singer goes to school to support at-risk kids

Shania Twain was very matter of fact, speaking more with a tone of frustration than a “poor me” attitude, when she spoke to youngsters at Tom Williams Elementary School.

“At your age, I went to the dentist with one of my siblings who was younger than me, and his teeth were all rotting because my parents just neglected to recognize that he was having a problem with his teeth,” she said, putting aside her prepared remarks to tell the story.

“All of his teeth had to be pulled out that day at the dentist’s office. My mother was not there with me. I was probably 11 years old, and I stood there and held his hand while all of his teeth got pulled out.

“It was traumatizing for me and my brother,” she added, as if she had to. “All of that was unnecessary.”

This reminder of the country star’s tough childhood in Ontario, Canada, came as an explanation for her Shania Kids Can Foundation. The foundation’s first U.S. venture creates a permanent base in the North Las Vegas elementary school that has more than 1,000 students, about 92 percent of them Hispanic.

The Caesars Palace headliner spoke Monday to 14 students and school district officials inside the classroom that will serve as a “clubhouse” to serve at-risk children.

“We can’t always expect our children’s home lives to give them the support they need. When we recognize that’s not happening, we have to step in and make it happen,” she explained.

A first-year budget of $75,000 will fund a full-time substitute and supplies for the program that will run before, after and during the school day, according to the school’s website. It will identify needs as simple as shampoo or shoes — other personal examples she cited from her childhood — as well as organizing field trips and visits from speakers.

Williams already is a Title 1 school receiving federal funds for free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs. Principal Jennifer French said existing safety net programs lessen the chance of another scenario Twain recounted to students about her youth.

“When I walked into the school this morning the first thing I noticed was cooking. I could smell food,” she said. “I remember that even in my own school years … the cooked food drove me crazy, the smell of it. I was hungry.

“I probably went to bed the night before without dinner, going to school without breakfast and I didn’t have a lunch,” she said. “It was torture to walk into a school and smell food and know that I was going to have to go through that day hungry.”

The singer’s point in telling these stories to the wide-eyed youngsters was that they shouldn’t have to rely on her singing talent or good fortune in show business.

“I wish I could go back and have all this,” she said. “The true, true purpose of the program is, I promised myself when I was a child at this very age, that if I ever had enough money and power and success of my own, I would make sure that no one had to experience what I did in my school.” …

Caesars Entertainment Corp. announced last week that it will update Bally’s “Jubilee!” the oldest show running on the Strip and the rare one for which performers are directly on the hotel payroll (most shows now are contracted through middle-party producers).

The showgirl revue will be relaunched next spring, with the choreography, staging and music “refreshed” under the helm of Frank Gatson Jr., best known as Beyonce’s creative director.

Singing impressionist Veronic DiCaire will continue to be a “Jubilee!” roommate at least through Jan. 18. …

No one’s ever been very forthright on whether Cee Lo Green’s “Loberace” show would ever see the light of midnight in Las Vegas again. Nobody ever mentioned that the first round of shows were filmed, either.

But Tuesday brings the home video release of the show for those of you who might have missed it in March. I’m almost willing to bet this “Technicolor circus,” as it’s billed in promo materials, comes off better on the Blu-ray from Eagle Rock Entertainment than it did in person, where it will be easier to notice the 10 showgirls and harder to realize that the whole show was locked down to recorded musical tracks. …

Finally, Marty Allen sent me a photo of him with Robin Williams and Mort Sahl, who came to see him perform in Northern California. “They are both genuine guys,” he reports. The 91-year-old can’t promise either of them will be on hand to see him at the Plaza today through Saturday, but he and singing spouse Karon Kate Blackwell should have plenty of local friends on hand regardless.

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

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