Olivia Newton-John still surprises with a wholesome charm

Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage

Olivia Newton-John thrills the Grand Sierra Theatre with songs from her illustrious career.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Shaun Astor

Sometimes you just have no idea what you’re in for.

Some nights, you find yourself saying “street cred be damned” and heading out to see Olivia Newton-John perform in concert. And on occasion, what you see blows away all expectations.

I’ll preface this by saying that “Xanadu,” a 1980 film where Newton-John plays Kira, a roller skating muse coming of life from the imagination of a struggling record poster artist (universally panned as being among the worst films ever) ranks with my personal all-time favorite movies. I’ve watched this movie so many times and it only continues to get better!

Aside from this, Newton-John is popularly known due to having had her toes dipped in multiple eras and outposts of popular culture, from her start in 1960s Australian television, her U.S. breakout in 1970s country music, her leading role as Sandy in the film “Grease,” her oft-covered 1980s radio hit “Physical,” her name frequently tied to environmental and world poverty causes and benefits, and most recently, her attachment to the soundtrack of the “Stranger Things” series. Because of this media omnipresence spanning nearly 50 years, it’s not just hard to be unaware of her, but also, I found, hard to attend a show and not realize her role in songs that I had no idea were hers.

First, it needs to be said that she belongs to an era past of performers. Her beaming smile, wholesome jokes — and bedazzled-everything collection of flowy outfits that merged showy façade with a lack of raunch — set the tone for a performance spotlighting charm and talent, backed by capable and versatile musicianship over flash and distraction.

She was at times endearing – like the moment when she called to stage two girls who had approached her that morning in the airport asking for a picture.

She lamented that she had to say no, remarking, ‘You know how you look after early morning travel’, and then posed with the girls in front of the audience as a consolation. She was down to earth – laughing following a subdued, almost-jazzy rendition of “Physical,” asking, “Can you believe that song was banned?” with a wholesome smile on her face. “In its day it was considered quite risqué. Compared to what’s on the radio now, I think it sounds like a lullaby!”

And finally, she knew how to put on a show, with a lot of egging on the Grand Sierra Resort’s packed Grand Theatre audience to sing along to the back-and-forth songs from “Grease” with her backup singers pantomiming Travolta’s character’s cool machismo and her sock hop coyness.

In short, she was funny, she was fun, she could put on a show not despite the minimal stage set and production, but using it as an asset, and by the end of the night her tone of wit, graciousness and charisma was infectious.

The night ended with her standing beside her piano player, singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” ending to a lively standing ovation from the crowd.

Some nights you have no idea what you’re in for, and it takes stripping aside the flashy choreography and manufactured titillation production of many of today’s performers and shows, to take you back to an era of nightclubs and seemingly far more intimate performances where you find yourself in the midst of a true and unique talent who doesn’t need the excess gimmicks to wow a room.

P.S. Thank you, Olivia, for keeping the song “Xanadu” in the set list. “Rotten Tomatoes” be damned!

– Shaun Astor

Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage

Olivia Newton-John sings a duet with Steve Real in the Grand Theatre.
Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage

Steve Astror / Tahoe Onstage

About Shaun Astor

Shaun Astor cites pop music singers and social deviants as being among his strongest influences. His vices include vegan baking, riding a bicycle unreasonable distances and fixating on places and ideas that make up the subject of the sentence, "But that’s impossible…" He splits his time between Reno and a hammock perched from ghost town building foundations.

9 comments

  1. Shaun’s review sums it up perfectly! From beginning to end, this classy lady put on a show like no other! Olivia looked great and her crystalline voice was as good if not better than it always has been. We got her favorite flowers (white lilys) and gave them to a good friend we brought with us to give to her. Our friend, John, is a big fan and he had no idea we got a ticket for him. Needless to say he was blown away by the surprise and the performance!

    • Olivia Newton-John and Kenny Rogers are my two strongest influences. The third would probably be the Eagles and then back to my country roots. But I love Olivia Newton-John so much when I was 8 years old I wore her record out. Olivia I Honestly Love You

      • I am a lifelong Lyricist with hundreds several hundreds of Songs written please follow me on social media and listen to me on reverb Nation I would be so honored to meet Olivia and be mentored by her this would be my dream come true. I Am Legend thanks to her influence

  2. Love, love, love this woman! I’ve seen her 8 times over the last 20 years and I am always blown away by her shows!

  3. I am so glad you finally discovered Olivia. She hasn’t changed over the years, which is why people like I have been going to her concerts for more than 40 years.
    Sometimes less is better and Olivia proved that to you. Good people are hard to find but you found Olivia.
    For those who haven’t please catch one of her concerts and you be “hooked” for life.

  4. Rolf , how I would love to do so if only one more time. Already ‘hooked.’

  5. ENCHANTED BY HER MUSIC FROM 1979 TO TILL NOW HER PRESENCE ON THE STAGE IS GRACEFUL AND HER VOICE IS NO DOUBT CAPTIVATING MY FULL FAMILY INCLUDING MY DAD LOVE HER MUSIC AND PRAY TO GOD TO SHOWER BLESSINGS FROM PARADISE UPON HER

  6. I was one of the lucky ones to be at this show. My son bought me tickets because he knows how much I love her. My first concert was to see Olivia with my Dad when I was in the 5th grade … many years ago :). This weekend was the anniversary of his passing and I know he was there with me! I have seen her probably 10 times and will keep going … she is the best! Love her ! It was so awesome when she called the two ladies up to take a picture … they were sitting two rows in front of us … just awesome! Great review of an awesome show!

  7. Olivia thank you for the songs & the music of the past….. you have a beautiful voice, unmatched by no one….goes back to the early ’70s when I first heard you ….. songs that reflect my life & I’m sure many others……you were the greatest ….. then & now…… wonderful songs & music…… may
    God keep you alive forever…… we love your music……

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