It is a crisp autumn night this Thursday, November 16, 2017, as we make our way into the pristine Bergen Performing Arts Center, a jewel of a theatre located in charming Englewood, NJ. We’re here to see four-time Grammy winner, songstress, and actress Olivia Newton-John. Probably best known for her portrayal of Sandy in the hit movie, Grease, Olivia Newton-John has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. She’s also made headlines for her charitable work helping others after her own challenges with breast cancer, notably through the establishment of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
Before the concert begins, we have an opportunity to catch up with fans who have traveled from near and far to support one of their most treasured celebrity icons — a woman whom they’ve adored for decades for her acting and musical talents, her tenderheartedness and compassion, and her ability to deal with adversity with dignity and grace.
First, we meet Caroline who has flown in from Toronto, Canada especially for this concert.
Reveals Caroline, “Olivia Newton-John was my childhood role model,” explaining that when she was a youngster, she and a friend sent fan mail to Newton-John, along with other celebrities of the day.
“We wrote to a lot of people,” recalls Caroline, “but Olivia Newton-John is the only one who wrote back! I was only twelve at the time, but it left a tremendous imprint on me.”
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We also chat with James from Highlands, holding a beautiful lily of the valley bouquet of flowers. These flowers seem to have been specifically selected for Ms. Newton John, symbolizing sweetness or perhaps a harbinger of happiness for her.
“Her voice is my favorite sound,” reveals James, “and the only match to her voice is her grace and art.”
James also discloses that he’s been to so many of Newton-John’s concerts in his lifetime that he’s unable to count them all.
Another fan, Maureen from Panther Valley, recalls that, as a child, she listened to Olivia Newton-John’s music on her record player, where she could relate the innocence of Newton John’s voice to her own childhood innocence. “And Olivia Newton-John is still important to me,” explains Maureen, “because she represents such significant moments in my life.”
When Maureen’s friend, Linda from Long Valley, chimes in, “And I just love her from that movie, Grease,” Maureen interjects, “…and I love her for everything else! She’s been through so much, and I’m trying to support her. I admire the woman.”
“God bless her!” whispers Linda.
After the house lights dim, Ms. Newton-John takes the stage dressed in a chic black suit as the sold-out BergenPAC audience wildly cheers.
“I’m going to take you on a musical journey,” announces Newton-John as she begins a rockin’ version of “Magic,” her 1980 song from the Xanadu film soundtrack — accompanied by a talented cast of instrumentalists and back-up singers.
She follows that up with the title song from the film, Xanadu, reminding the crowd that, as a result of appearing in the movie, she was given the opportunity of a lifetime to dance with co-star Gene Kelly.
As Newton-John’s show progresses, it is evident that her hopelessly-devoted fans are delighted to share this musical journey with her tonight. When she sachays across the stage, it is clear that she looks and sounds as great as ever, performing such songs as “Deeper than the Night,” “Don’t Stop Believing,” and “Suddenly.”
A poignant moment of the night is when Newton-John presents a beautiful rendition of “Stronger than Before,” singing, “I’ve survived so many things/Stronger than before/I believe in miracles/I believe in dreams.” For this touching performance — in which she reveals her own trials and tribulations — Newton-John receives a standing ovation, to which she responds, “I see why I love coming here so much!”
Clearly, the audience and this performer share a mutual love and admiration for each other.
True to her country roots, Newton-John invites the crowd to join her in singing a swingin’ country medley featuring such early career hits as “If You Love Me Let Me Know,” “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and “Let Me Be There.”
Through all of these ’70’s country classics, the audience joyfully claps along as Newton-John dances around the stage. Her back up-band and singers are tighter than tight, perfectly accompanying her lovely voice.
The evening peaks when Newton-John reveals to this Jersey crowd that next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Grease — a movie that also starred NJ native John Travolta as Danny Zuko — and she invites a special friend seated in the audience to join her on stage.
Here, Didi Kahn — best known for portraying beauty-school dropout Frenchie in the film — makes her way up to the stage where she dons a satin Pink Ladies jacket!
With Kahn and the backup singers supporting her, Newton-John delivers a picture perfect performance of “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” her voice never sounding better. For her efforts, she receives yet another standing ovation. In addition, a number of fans flock to the front of the auditorium to hand her beautiful bouquets of flowers in a show of support for her work both on and off the stage.
Newton-John, Kahn, and the rest of the back-up singers and band have a blast performing “Summer Nights” for this fully-engaged audience which happily sings along. When the song ends, Kahn looks out at the audience and asks, “Is she a miracle or what?”
The evening would not be complete without a performance of Newton-John’s 1982 hit, “Physical.” On a highly creative arrangement of the tune, the audience claps and sings along as Newton-John belts out a bossa nova rendition of the number which features both a bluesy alto sax solo and an acoustic guitar solo. At the song’s conclusion, Newton-John asks the audience, “Can you believe that song was banned? By today’s standards it sounds like a lullaby!”
The evening winds down with a heartfelt and stunning performance of “I Honestly Love You,” Newton-John clearly showing the adoration she has for her fans.
When the ballad ends, the audience is once again on its feet as several more audience members make their way up to the stage to present her with even more bouquets of flowers.
Clearly to these fans and to millions more worldwide, Olivia Newton-John is not just a singer. She’s a hero, and her supporters are hopelessly devoted to her.
As we head out of the theater and into the chilly autumn night, we chat with several members of the crowd, who can’t speak highly enough of Newton-John’s performance this evening.
States Frank from Cranford, “Olivia Newton-John is so much more than just a performer. She is someone whom I truly admire.”
Frank’s wife, Jean, concurs noting, “I am here tonight to support her. She has been through so much, and she continues to influence me daily. She is an inspiration.”
Robert from Livingston acknowledges he’s been a fan of Newton-John’s for decades, and he never misses the chance to see her when she is in New Jersey, disclosing, “She is beautiful inside and out — and I just love the sound of her voice.”
Lastly, we speak with Loretta from Union who states, “This evening was truly magical — and it always is when Olivia Newton-John performs in Englewood, because it’s John Travolta’s home town!”
Adding, “I was so excited to see Didi Kahn here tonight, too — the whole evening brought back so many special memories of my childhood,” Loretta concludes by exclaiming, “I just loved the whole thing!”
For more information about Olivia Newton-John please visit olivianewton-john.com. To learn more about the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre, please go to www.onjcancercentre.org. For information on future great performances at BergenPAC— including An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth on December 10, and Jewel’s Handmade Holiday Tour on December 19 — please go to bergenpac.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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