Olivia Newton-John : From ‘Neutron-Bomb’ to ... still going strong
A world away from the mainstream, modern-day pop scene and the likes of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, a musical legend made her way to Jakarta to perform on Sunday in the mellow, chandeliered elegance of the Hotel Mulia Ballroom in Senayan, Central Jakarta.
Olivia Newton-John, one of Australia’s best-known exports and still arguably most famous for her role as Sandy Olsson in the 1978 hit musical Grease, was in town for only the second time in her incredible 40-year career to perform the last gig of an Asian tour, following visits to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka.
The pre-show hype promised the “Greatest Hits and More” and the audience wasn’t disappointed. This show had them all, from Olivia’s earliest country hits, such as “Let Me Be There” and “If It Wasn’t For You”, through the hits of the 1970s and 1980s, including “A Little More Love”, “Suddenly” and “Xanadu”, on up to some of her latest offerings, such as a compilation of 1960s and 1970s remixes from the soundtrack to her latest movie A Few Best Men, and “Pearls on a Chain”, from her most recent album Grace and Gratitude Renewed.
After a half-hour delay, the show began in a relatively low-key way. Perhaps partly due to the fact that the ballroom was not full, it took a few songs before the atmosphere became fully charged and any tension had evaporated.
What the audience may have lacked in size, however, they more than made up for in enthusiasm and with Olivia’s third offering, the classic “A Little More Love”, the crowd really got into their stride and from then on, the evening became one big love-in.
Olivia is not only a performer with decades of experience behind her; she is also a person who exudes a very down-to-earth, unaffected personality, which was illustrated by the very natural, often humorous, “chats” she had with the audience throughout the evening. This is a woman who, after all, doesn’t need to do live tours; with all the success she’s had in her life — and not only in music — she has nothing to prove to anyone.
She’s completely secure with who she is and she tours for the pure love of performing and connecting with people.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Olivia’s performance was lackluster in any way: far from it. With her still youthful looks, a voice that remains clear and pure, and an ability to shimmy and shake with the best of them, Olivia belies her 63 years.
Her rendition of “Physical”, which was voted “Sexiest Song of All Time” by Billboard magazine in 2010, still raised the collective blood pressure of those watching, attracting great whoops of delight from the audience when it ended.
Supporting Olivia on Sunday was an ensemble of seven — all highly accomplished musicians and singers in their own right. Some have been Olivia’s long-term collaborators; guitarist Andy Timmons, for instance, has been her musical director for the past 12 years.
But, as Olivia made a point of sharing, these people are close personal friends and it was the genuine warmth and affection between them, and which they in turn emanated to the audience, that made the occasion so special.
This camaraderie was plain to see when Olivia summoned one of her backstage team, Martha, to the stage. It turned out that Martha was married to Steve, one of Olivia’s backup singers, and Sunday marked their 17th wedding anniversary.
So, as a surprise, of which she was completely unaware, Martha was seated center-stage, while Steve proceeded to serenade her with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, arguably one of the most beautiful love songs ever written.
Well, by the time Steve stopped singing, it wasn’t only Martha who was welling-up.
After this, the show resumed with Olivia showing her vocal versatility by singing a wide range of numbers from different musical genres, including John Denver’s popular hit “Country Roads”; “Not Gonna Give into It”, a catchy, rumba-rhythm song from Olivia’s self-penned Gaia album, which was borne out of her battle against breast cancer 20 years ago; and a classic standard, Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”.
But it wouldn’t be an Olivia Newton-John concert without going back to Rydell High School and a rousing finale of some of the hit songs from Grease.
After donning the obligatory black leather jackets, Olivia and her three backup singers proceeded to thrill the audience with “You’re the One That I Want”, “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, “Summer Nights” and “We Go Together”. The crowd was ecstatic and by the end of the medley were cheering with joy and shouting for more.
After a few minutes offstage, Olivia duly obliged and returned to end the show with the heart-rending “I Honestly Love You”, which was a fitting close to what had been a hugely enjoyable evening. With the audience on its feet and cries of “We love you Olivia!” ringing through the ballroom, the only thing to add is the hope that it won’t be too long until the next time Olivia Newton-John graces Jakarta with her presence.
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