Olivia Newton-John is one busy lady for someone who once sang, “Have You Never Been Mellow.” Newton-John has been making the rounds on the morning talk show circuit promoting and performing songs off her latest CD; the Holiday inspired Christmas Wish, and had upwards of three scheduled television appearances alone during the week that she graciously spoke with me.
Aside from morning shows, the delightful and vivacious 59 year old Newton-John is slated to perform on “ABC’s Holiday With The Stars” on December 16th and “ABC’s Holiday Celebration at Ford’s Theatre” on December 19th.
Her CD, Christmas Wish, is a blending of time honored Christmas classics, like “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Silent Night,” plus it features duets with Michael McDonald, Jon Secada and Barry Manilow. And, if that weren’t enough to get you in the Christmas spirit, there are also new songs that Newton-John has penned with her producer/songwriting partner, Amy Sky – including the stirring “Underneath The Same Sky” and the doo-wop flavored “Christmas on My Radio,” which is sure to please her ardent Grease fans.
It was a tough call for her to pick a singular favorite, as different songs on the CD hold different meanings for her.
“I like all of the traditional ones -“Away In A Manger” and “Silent Night. I particularly liked whichever one it is that I got to sing in different languages (“Silent Night”), ’cause that was fun to do,” she said with a laugh. “I just love the arrangements on the traditional ones, and I really, really enjoyed writing and recording the new ones; so it’s really hard for me to pick one.”
And, she did want to extend her well wishes to her fans for the Holiday Season, which perfectly encapsulates why she remains a favorite performer in the gay community.
“I wish them all peace, peace of mind – love, of course, and understanding of each other, because we are all connected,” she replied.
During the course of her impressive music career, Newton-John has had ten top-of- the- charts singles, sold more than 50 million albums the world over, and had the distinct honor of being nominated a multitude of times for and has been awarded with four Grammys, and she has even won an Emmy for songwriting.
With such an expansive catalog of hits at her disposal, Newton-John will be releasing the DVD Olivia Newton-John and the Sydney Symphony: Live at the Sydney Opera House on January 15th, which takes her songs and gives some of them a different spin.
For example, her 1981 mega hit, “Physical,” which spent a staggering 10 weeks in the Number One position, in turn making aerobics and headbands staples of the physical fitness craze that it elicited, is a more stripped down version of the original song. But, as Newton-John explained, while there are some signature tunes that remain in tact, sometimes she likes to mix it up.
“Pretty much I will do my hits, and change them up,” she explained. “I have to leave a certain core of the ones that are best known, and I think, best liked. And then I add in a couple of new ones, or a couple of things, just to change it up now and then.
“But, I always remember going to see one of my favorite artist’s years ago, and she didn’t do her hits. And, I always remember thinking, ‘If I ever get to that position, I’m always going to do my hits, because that’s why people come.”
The same day the DVD is available, there will also be a companion CD, Olivia’s Live Hits, being released, a double bonus for fans of this talented lady.
This next year is going to be particularly eventful for the songstress, as she has a gamut of varied projects in the works, including reprising her role as Bitsy Mae Harling on a television version of “Sordid Lives” for LOGO, which begins filming in January (Leslie Jordan, Delta Burke, and much of the film’s cast, are also on board for the series). And Newton-John is looking forward to stepping into the Birkenstocks of the lesbian ex-con character once again.
“Oh you know, I love Del (Shores, who directed the film version and has a hand in the TV version, as well.), so it will be a hoot!” Newton-John exclaimed. “I like the character because she’s so opposite from me,” she stated. “So, it’s like Sandy II (her transformed- into-a-temptress character in Grease), it’s like going against who I am, so it’s a challenge. It seems in my life that I always challenge myself, and I don’t know what that is – if it’s something out of my comfort zone, and if I’m a little bit scared of it, I should do it. Because it makes you stretch into places you wouldn’t have gone into.”
Newton-John has even penned some new tunes for the series, which taps into and brings to the table, her crossover country-western appeal, which she experienced early on in her recording career.
“The fun part is I’ve written 5 new songs for it with Amy Sky,” Newton-John said. “We got together for two days and recorded five songs for this crazy character, Bitsy.”
Of course, the role of Sandy Olsson, which left an unforgettable mark on the pop culture landscape in the 1978 film version of Grease, holds a very special place in her heart. Newton-John shared her favorite memory of making the film, and why this movie musical, the most popular one of all time, has such a lasting appeal.
“Well, my favorite memory is just the actual energy between all of us, the cast members; making friends with Didi Conn and John (Travolta) and the cast and crew, we just had a blast,” she responded. “On a day-to-day level, you couldn’t have more fun – we just had a fantastic time. Which is why I think the movie is so popular, ’cause that energy transcends.”
Another of her films, the 1980 camptastic roller skating ladened musical, Xanadu, has been resurrected as a Broadway musical, and has been very well received by audiences and critics alike. Newton-John had this to say about the new version.
“I love it! I went to see it, and I had such a giggle, thought it was fantastic.”
It is Newton-John’s real life role as an advocate for promoting health and all around well- being that will also fill up many a day in her calendar in 2008.
And, this stems from her being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, and subsequently becoming a breast cancer survivor; and Newton-John has made a concerted effort to raise all encompassing health awareness ever since.
One of the ways that she does this is by owning Gaia Retreat & Spa, a haven located in her native homeland of Australia, which is designed to help visitor’s “relax, refocus and rebalance your well-being,” according to its website.
Another way Newton-John carries herself as a staunch promoter of all aspects of wellness- including body, mind and spirit, is by using her celebrity in two different upcoming ventures. She will be joining the PBS integrative health series, “Healing Quest,” as a co-host.
“I’m very proud to be going that team,” she proclaimed. “Deepak Chopra was really the one who encouraged them to get me for it. It’s going to be really lovely, I really believe in what they do. They are going to do teaching people about integrative medicine and things you can do to maintain your health, rather than wait till you get sick –kind of the Chinese way, really, is to stay healthy, to watch what you eat. And little changes that you can make by buying organic, and lots of healing things. My life seems to be going that way, so it all seems to tie in together.”
By far, one of the biggest ways that Newton-John will be getting physical in the New Year is by partaking in “The Great Walk To Beijing 2008,” which will raise funds to build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre in Melbourne, Australia, and consists of a 21 day long trek in April along The Great Wall of China.
“‘The Great Walk To Beijing’ is something we’ve been working on for four years -it took us four years to get permission from the Chinese Government,” Newton-John explained. “This is very exciting, because it’s going to lead up to the Olympics, and we’re inviting celebrities and athletes and politicians and visionaries from all over the world to come. And, hopefully, they’ll be supported by their fan base to kind of sponsor them on the walk; which is very steep and very, very long.
“I’m doing 240 miles on the Wall, obviously not the whole thing, ’cause a lot of it is not even walk able. It’s all to draw attention to cancer research and to raise money for my hospital. It’s going to be incredibly challenging, because I do the whole thing –my guests come and go, but I have to do the whole thing!” She said with a laugh. “So, another challenge, see? But this will be not only emotional, but physically challenging.”
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