After the successes of Celine, Cher, Elton, and Bette (to achieve “icon” status, you clearly must be recognizable by only one name) Las Vegas is set to welcome LGBT favorite and “down to earth diva” Olivia Newton-John as she begins “Summer Nights,” her concert residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas beginning April 8.
With more than 100 million albums sold and four Grammy Awards (actually, just about every music award), Olivia has long earned a place in the pantheon of legendary music artists. Add to that a starring role in the most successful movie musical of all time, Grease. Plus, who can forget her role as “Bitsy Mae Harling,” lesbian bar singer, in both the cult film and Logo TV series, Sordid Lives? The LGBT community has long embraced Olivia, and she’s returned the love performing for several major international gay pride events in Sydney, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. And, she was one of the very first major celebrities to speak out in support of marriage equality in Australia. It’s no wonder she’s still the “one that we want.”
Queerty: What made you decide to take on the long-term run at The Flamingo Las Vegas?
Olivia Newton-John: I’d been asked to do it before, and I’d postponed it because of my sister. [Newton-John’s sister, Rona, passed away last year from an aggressive form of brain cancer.] There was a time when I wasn’t sure if I could sing again or would sing again. But as time went on, I felt that she would not have wanted me to give up. I’ve always wanted to do a residency, and it’s a wonderful opportunity. I can be in one place, and have my dog and have a fairly normal life. [Laughs] I’m excited about it.
“You’re The One That I Want,” your duet with John Travolta from Grease, was named the best-selling duet of all time in 2011. Any chance fans might see the two of you reunite onstage during the run of “Summer Nights?”
I don’t even know if John knows I’m doing the show, but if he does come, yes, I’ll try to get him up there [for a duet]. I hope he comes at least once. That would be wonderful!
Your music has always had a very positive message. What do you take into consideration when choosing songs to sing?
The lyrics to me are incredibly important. Very much so. “Not Gonna Give In To It” is a song I wrote after I had breast cancer. So, that was somewhat of a mantra to myself. And John Farrar wrote “Don’t Stop Believin’” which is a beautiful lyric. He always wrote such beautiful lyrics. The song “Magic” is also very positive — “Nothing can stand in our way.” Those kinds of lyrics are very important to me. I don’t like to sing negative songs. [Laughs] I never really thought of it that way! I think the gay community are incredibly loyal fans. Indeed, they have been throughout my career. And I really appreciate that because they really are loyal to the artists that they love.
You were one of the first major celebrities to speak out in support of marriage equality in Australia. Are you surprised at the momentum the marriage equality movement has had in the past few years?
I think it’s fantastic. Not surprised, because I think we’re all becoming more educated and more aware. Just about every family has a gay member, I think. It used to be swept under the carpet, but not anymore. I think that as the awareness grows and the love grows, it will be accepted more and more. We’re very lucky that we have this in the free world. There are those in other countries who can’t be who they are.
I might be a little nervous, but it doesn’t stop me if it’s correct. I’m not really a political person; I don’t affiliate myself with any particular party. But I will get involved with an issue if I feel it’s the right thing to do. I’ve spoken out in Australia about ‘fracking’ where they are breaking open the ground to release natural gas which really endangers the water supply. It was a kind of dangerous area to tread in, but I knew that it was incredibly important to make people aware because I don’t think enough people knew about it. That was important to me. I cancelled a tour of Japan many years ago because of the killing of whales and dolphins in tuna nets, and I can’t believe it’s still happening. So, there are a lot of things that I feel passionately about. Sometimes I’m a little nervous about it but that doesn’t stop me — you have to have the courage of your convictions.
A portion of every ticket sold to your concerts in Las Vegas will benefit the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center in Australia. I’ve never heard of another Las Vegas headliner making their charity such a prominent part of their run in Vegas.
Thank you. I’m thrilled about it.
And actually, although you have helped raise over $200 million to open the Center, the fundraising doesn’t stop now, does it?
No. In fact, in Australia it’s national healthcare which pays for the hospital. But the Wellness Center programs have to be paid for through public fundraising, which we’ve managed to do until now. And going forward we’re going to have to continue to do that. So that is my job, and I’m really thrilled that really helps with these programs.
What is the most important component about the Center for you?
Well, it’s the Wellness Center. It’s made from an old church and an old hall that used to treat people with tuberculosis. Of course, TB is something that they have under control, and I believe that my hospital will eventually be all a wellness center and cancer will all be a thing of the past like TB is. That’s my vision and that’s my dream.
Fans are always looking for new music from you. Is there anything on the horizon?
I have an EP of songs I’ve had in the works for years called Hotel Sessions. It’s a collection of songs produced by my nephew Brett Goldsmith. I literally recorded the tracks over nine years in different hotel rooms across Australia while on tour. Plus, there will be a couple of dance remixes for fun. It will be available on iTunes soon and at the Flamingo Las Vegas during my run there.
Scroll down to see photos of Las Vegas welcoming Newton-John to the city with a Grease-inspired parade last week, complete with the Jubilee Showgirls as her Pink Ladies and the Chippendales as the T-birds.