The Music Center at Strathmore was filled to the brim Friday night as four-time Grammy Award winning singer Olivia Newton-John, seemingly timeless in looks, personality, and talent, took the stage to the welcoming cheers of her fans and friends. Dressed in a black sequined tuxedo inspired ensemble, and accompanied by an eight piece ensemble of highly talented instrumentalists and back-up singers, she delivered exactly what her audience came to hear – the music that has kept her performing in sold-out concerts around the world for more than four decades.
Although her much admired airy sweet voice was, particularly at the beginning of the concert, sometimes over-powered by her highly amplified group, it was clear from the moment Olivia sang her first note, that she still has the chops to deliver. With a steady beat and strong back-up behind her, Newton-John moved effortlessly through a string of hits ranging from pop rock, to country, and even bossa nova, frequently moving into high soprano notes that sent the crowd cheering each time she did.
Newton-John has had quite the career. While she will forever be known for co-starring along with her friend John Travolta in the blockbuster movie musical Grease, as the concert unfolded and she hit her stride, memories of her extraordinary musical accomplishments came flooding back. For example, a medley that included “Let Me Be There,” “Please Mr. Please,” “Jolene,” “Take Me Home Country Roads,” and “If You Love Me Let Me Know” reminded her audience just how rare it was for a young girl to have left Australia, where she had lived since the age of five, to travel to London, where she ended up at Abbey Road recording a string of county pop hits and winning her first Grammy.
Then, in introducing “Xanadu,” she shared her joy at having starred in a movie where she got to dance with the one and only Gene Kelly. From one song to the next, including her crowd pleasing, high-energy performance of “Physical,” Newton-John kept the audience engaged and remembering all night long, and they rewarded her with three standing ovations during the course of the evening.
Midway through the show, Newton-John, a 20-year survivor of breast cancer, shared her struggles with the disease and told how she wrote “Not Gonna Give Into It” during this challenging time in her life. After performing the number to her supportive audience, she also shared that she and her longtime friend John Travolta just this past week recorded an album, This Christmas, and that artist proceeds from it will benefit the Jett Travolta Foundation, a children’s charity named for Travolta’s late son, and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre.
Throughout the night, Olivia graciously shared the stage with members of her performing group, which included her longtime music director and guitarist Andy Timmons, Matt McKenzie (bass), Pat Coyle (piano), Warren Hayes (winds), and Mark Beckett (drums). Early on, back-up vocalist Steve Real, who has a strong R&B character to his voice, performed with Newton-John, in a well received rendition of her hit “Suddenly.”
Late in the show, the crowd got what they had clearly been waiting for when Newton-John launched into the music from Grease, including “Sandra Dee, You’re The One That I Want” (featuring stand-out and multi-talented musician and singer Warren Hayes), “Hopelessly Devoted,” “Summer Nights,” and “We Go Together.” With audience members sharing that they had watched the movie more than 100 times, it was no wonder that this well-delivered tribute garnered the longest standing ovation of the night.
Olivia Newton-John has been at it for more than four decades, and her loyal fans are many. As she closed the evening with her beautiful signature ballad “I Honestly Love You,” nobody was left doubting her sincerity, and a room full of love showered right back at her.
If you happen to be in search of the perfect gift for a perfect someone in your life, you absolutely can’t go wrong with a gift certificate to a concert at Strathmore. I spend a lot of time at Strathmore, and I love every second of it. Everybody is welcome. From classical, to opera, to Broadway, to jazz, to R&B, to country, there is always something wonderful happening at Strathmore. I hope to see you there soon!
Olivia Newton-John performed one night on Friday, November 18, 2012 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. To view their upcoming events, check out their calendar.
The Music Center at Strathmore
5301 Tuckerman Lane
North Bethesda, MD 20852-3385