In the distant recesses of time, there was a poster.
It adorned New York subway walls, courtesy of WHN, a country music station back then.
A golden apparition gazed down in soft focus, quickening my adolescent heartbeat with every dreamy glance.
Oh yeah, and Olivia Newton-John could sing, too.
The good news: She still can sing. And she’s looking remarkably good, too. The proof was onstage Tuesday at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.
The sobering part? Adolescence is so far back in the rear-view mirror, it takes reading glasses to see it– if I can find them.
When that mesmerizing poster appeared in the subway, Newton-John was just boarding an express train that would rocket her from country (!) phenom to movie sensation to pop diva to cancer survivor and fundraiser to environmentalist to Olympics torch-bearer to resort owner to Vegas attraction.
Along the way, she would sell 100 million records, win four Grammys, and get named an officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth.
Yes, the Aussie icon has crammed a lot into her 68 years–as she reminded a large and adoring crowd through a rapturous 90-minute romp through her musical scrapbook.
Newton-John opened with a video duet with her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, on Magic. Next came Xanadu, title track from the 1980 movie that has achieved cult status with Newton-John’s fans.
Her voice sounded a tad husky on A Little More Love. But the silk returned as she donned a sequined cowboy hat and sang her early “country” hits– Have You Never Been Mellow, Please Mister Please, and a foot-stomping, revival-tent-worthy Let Me Be There.
She tossed in an homage to Dolly Parton with Jolene, ending on a sustained, stratospherice note that may have shattered a few bottles in the lobby bar.
In 1981, Newton-John traded her girl-next-door image for grinding seductress with her mega-hit Physical. She and her seven-piece band reprised it in Morristown with jumping jacks.
“It’s hard to believe that song was banned,” she bantered cheerfully. “Compared to what’s on the radio now, it’s like a lullaby!”
The show included self-penned tunes of more recent vintage, The Promise (The Dolphin Song) and Don’t Cut Me Down, inspired by her second husband, “Amazon John” Easterling. Not Gonna Give Into It dated to her breast cancer battle of the early ’90s.
Newton-John’s encore number, I Honestly Love You (composed by fellow Australian Peter Allen), was sweet and haunting, like her original recording.
But the evening’s biggest highlights–surprise!–came during the Grease set. I wondered how this would play out. At MPAC last summer, it felt a little creepy hearing Gary Puckett, now firmly in granddad territory, crooning Young Girl from 1968.
Could Olivia Newton-John still pull off Sandy Olsson, the wholesome exchange student who stole John Travolta’s heart during the Carter Administration?
With a little help from the audience and some giddy ad libs, Newton-John and her band-mates fashioned a Summer Nights sing-along (T-Birds vs. Pink Girls!) that was pure, goofy fun.
Picture your mom cutting loose around the Christmas tree after she’s hit the egg nog.
So maybe our tickers aren’t beating double-time anymore. But they’re still beating, in time with a still-golden apparition. That’s something to sing about.