Celine Dion makes admirable return to stage

In an interview with USA Today earlier this week, Celine Dion anticipated her return to the stage in Las Vegas would be emotional. “There will be moments: emptiness, laughter, awkwardness, tearing,” she said. “There will be. But that’s the point of coming back. Otherwise, I just release an album. The bond, the sharing, communication.”

At the Colosseum at Caesars Palace on Thursday night, it took all of one song for at least part of her prescient prediction to be realized. After an opening montage featuring self-filmed footage of fans from all over the globe crooning along to “I Drove All Night,” Dion appeared in a floor-length white gown and sang the first lines of “I Surrender,” before the curtain dropped and was whisked away to either side of the stage, revealing the 31-piece orchestra behind her. After she offered up a stirring rendition of the tune, the audience rose to its feet and offered rapturous applause. Graciously accepting the accolades with a look of genuine gratitude, Dion waited a few beats to speak, allowing herself to fully absorb and experience the magnitude of moment.

“You know, it’s always good when we come back after being away. But I must tell you, it’s really good to be back, especially tonight,” she said deliberately, in a measured way, clearly speaking from the heart. “You know, I have missed you very much, your applause, your cheers, but I did not miss your love, because I knew it was with me. You have helped all of us get here tonight, and we are going to thank you the best way we can. We are going to sing for you, have some laughs, some memories and even go to a few new places together, if it’s OK with you.”

The laughs would come later. First the memories. During “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” vintage footage of the chanteuse played on panels above and beside her. It was a wistful walk down memory lane that brought the crowd to its feet. The next three songs (“Because You Loved Me,” “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” and “The Power of Love”) tugged firmly on the heartstrings. Although adult contemporary staples that you’d think have long since lost their impact, those tunes, along with many of the songs in the set, took on much more weight on this night — as Dion herself acknowledged in a preshow news conference — given the gravity of what she and her family have endured during husband Rene Angelil’s continuing battle with cancer.

To see Dion summon the courage to step back on stage with a heart so heavy and still seem so poised, you couldn’t help but be moved. During “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” as she sat on a stool and sang the classic tune made famous by Roberta Flack with subtle accompaniment, footage of her and her family enjoying time together played on the screen behind her, like a “giant iPad,” she said.

Naturally, every time Angelil appeared on the screen, the crowd responded with cheers. It was equally as heartrending during “I’m Alive,” when she declared “I love you, Rene!”

The most powerful moments of the set came during her rendition of “Show Must Go On,” as she sang the words with a conviction that made the already powerful tune seem like a personal anthem of resiliency, and her closing number, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which she sang incredibly delicately, making a moving song even more so.

But while the poignant moments were plentiful, the majority of the set wasn’t melancholy. Over the course of two hours, Dion led the band through two dozen songs, the bulk of which were her own, along with tunes made famous by other artists, and in typical fashion, on this night, she made each of them her own.

As expressed by show director Ken Erlich in an interview earlier this week with the Review-Journal, Dion’s reconfigured show is quite a bit different from her run last year at the Colosseum.

A dozen songs have disappeared from the set list, including cuts by Journey and Billy Joel, and several from the midsection, including the James Bond theme and “Goldfinger,” plus tunes by Carole King, Carly Simon, Wings, Blood Sweat & Tears, Patti Austin and James Ingram, Stevie Wonder, Janis Ian and Michael Jackson. Those tracks have been replaced by more of Dion’s songs and a new batch of covers from Prince and Queen, along with duets with a pair of fellow mononymous Las Vegas legends, Elvis and Sinatra.

For the last two songs, which came smack-dab in the middle of the set — and served as one of many highlight’s from the show — the King and the Chairman of the Board traded verses with the Dion, from the great beyond in holographic form. As far as holograms go, the two icons looked fairly lifelike from the rear of the theater, particularly Elvis, who appeared in all his ’68 Comeback Special glory. As memorable as those two performances were, though, they were rivaled — and preceded — by a segment in which Dion sang a duet … with herself.

Another highlight came during “Love Can Move Mountains” and “River Deep Mountain High,” when Dion appeared in a green, sequined mini that Tina Turner herself would have loved, as well as the “Uptown Funk” band medley, which included snippets of “We Are Family,” “Groove Is in the Heart” and “Get Up,” which segued seamlessly into “Kiss” and “Purple Rain.”

In that same USA Today interview, Dion offered a disclaimer for her live show, one that proved to be superfluous: “There is a difference between live and the studio,” she said. “The mistakes, sometimes are priceless. And if you come to see a show to look for perfection, it’s through the imperfection that you see the perfection. Otherwise, don’t pay the trip to come over here. Buy the album. There’s something between the lines, between the meanings of the songs, between the speech, empty spaces. There’s so much more.”

Although not entirely perfect, the production is about as close to immaculate as you can get. With seamless award-show caliber segues and staging, there’s not a lot of sizzle in terms of lighting or videography — but there doesn’t need to be. The centerpiece of the show — as it should be — is Dion’s powerful vocals and commanding stage presence.

While the rest of residency may not be tinged with such profound emotion like it was Thursday night, this is definitely a show you don’t want to miss. Dion is a singular talent who is absolutely worth spending your hard-earned money to see. If Thursday night was any indication, you can expect her to be poised and dependably elegant and eloquent.

Read more from Dave Herrera at bestoflasvegas.com. Contact him at dherrera@reviewjournal.com.

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