Newton-John talks ‘Grease,’ ‘Xanadu’ and reteaming with Travolta
It turns out when you ask a bunch of Olivia Newton-John fans for suggested questions ahead of an interview with the iconic movie star, pop music sensation and sex symbol, there's not really a deep well there.
Most just want to regale you with tales about how they listened to the soundtrack of "Grease" on a loop for most of their childhoods, singing along on classics like "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and snickering through the risque parts of "Summer Nights."
Olivia Newton-John in concert
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10
Where: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora; paramountaurora.com or (630) 896-6666
There's also a contingent who want you to incorporate bad puns into your questions using the titles of her hits like "Physical" and "Have You Never Been Mellow."
It's that kind of nostalgia, though, that Newton-John's career thrives on. The memories her songs and movies evoke allow her to maintain a loyal fan base.
Suburban fans of the songstress are able to get a double dose of Newton-John this month. Her much-ballyhooed Christmas album with "Grease" co-star John Travolta is being released Tuesday and she will be performing a solo show at Aurora's Paramount Theatre Saturday.
Q. What can the audience expect at your concert?
A. They will hear my songs from the very beginning when I started through to my country music career. It's my life in music basically. It's me singing, I'm not jumping around the stage a whole lot. I maybe am going to have to include some songs from the album with John.
Q. Let's talk about "This Christmas." How did the holiday album with John Travolta come about?
A. I actually sent him a text last year saying congratulations that "You're the One that I Want" had been nominated for the best duet of all time. He texted back that if we had won best duet we should do another. Thinking I'd never hear more about it, I forgot about it and then we ran into each other and decided let's do it for our charities. My portion goes to cancer wellness and his goes to the foundation named after his son. The album was really born out of love.
Q. You've raised a lot of money and awareness about cancer. What is your proudest moment in regard to that work?
A. When I opened my cancer wellness center this past June in Australia. That was the culmination of a lot of fundraisers and a lot of focus, so to have it open after so much work was thrilling. It really was extraordinary because it was such an important thing for me.
Q. Does John get top billing on the Christmas CD because it's awkward to say the two names the other way around?
A. Ha! No. I don't think we ever really thought of it at all.
Q. The CD is not really just you and John though. There are a lot of other people involved, right?
A. Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, Tony Bennett, Kenny G are on there too. It was wonderful.
Q. Then there's the original song by Jon Farrar, who wrote "You're the One that I Want." It's kind of a sequel, huh?
A. He's the only person with an original song. The idea to involve Jon really came from that original text message since everything started because of his song. We thought of "I Think You Might Like It" as a sequel.
Q. How did you decide which Christmas songs you were going to sing?
A. Well, we made a list — and checked it twice. No, we each made lists and we knocked out songs we didn't agree on until we found ones we both liked. It was a process. Whoever sounded best started off. The majority of the songs we sang in the studio together.
Q. So are you two still pretty close after all these years?
A. When we see each other. "Grease" was a pretty bonding experience. We don't see each other often because we work so much, but we're friends.
Q. Both of you have dealt with the highs and lows of celebrity. Do you talk about all that when you see each other?
A. We're friends, but what we talk about is between us. It was pretty much a work atmosphere on this record.
Q. Do you stay close with any other "Grease" castmates?
A. I'm closest with Didi (Conn), who played Frenchy in the movie. Was she in "Grease 2?" We're very close and I try to see her whenever I can.
Q. A lot has been made about the change in character Sandy undergoes at the end of "Grease." Do you believe it's anti-woman?
A. No. I don't think I've ever thought very deeply about it at all. It was part of the character's change. People have read too much into that. It makes the character fun, which is what that show is all about.
Q. When you were making "Xanadu," did you know it was going to be a flop?
A. When it was being made there were a lot of problems with the script. The script was being changed daily. The music and dancing were awesome, so I just focused on that. You know Kenny Ortega, who did "High School Musical," did the choreography for "Xanadu." Thank God the music was so good and kind of saved it.
Q. And you got to dance with Gene Kelly!
A. He was lovely. I still can't believe I danced with Gene Kelly. How lucky am I that I've been in movies where I've danced with two of the greatest dancers of all time — with Gene Kelly and John Travolta? I never would have thought that because I had two left feet growing up.
Q. What did you think of the Broadway take on "Xanadu?"
A. I was there on opening night and giggled all the way through it.
Q. You've been in the United States for a long time now. Do you have to work to keep your Australian accent?
A. Sure, I go to classes every Saturday. NO! I'm English by birth, so when I'm there my accent gets a little more British. But you know, my Australian friends think I sound American and my American friends think I sound Australian. So go figure.
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