Welcome Olivia Newton-John
to San Francisco!
by Donna Sachet
While the word iconic may be thrown about a bit too loosely these days, it certainly describes Olivia Newton-John. During her 40-year career, she has sold over 100 million albums and received four Grammy Awards, an Emmy and numerous People's Choice, Billboard, Country Music and American Music Awards, while firmly establishing herself in the LGBT community with her roles in the movies Grease, Xanadu, and Sordid Lives, not to mention her sexy Physical music video. Newton-John returns to San Francisco after nearly a decade's absence, to the Golden Gate Theatre on Thurs., Sept. 13. She offered this reporter a candid, personal e-mail interview from her home in Australia.
Donna Sachet: Welcome back to San Francisco! A breathless crowd of fans, including many from the LGBT community, awaits you! What are they going to see and hear?
Olivia Newton-John: Oh, thank you! I am really excited about coming to San Francisco again, it's one of my favorite cities! The show is going to feature my music and all of my hits over the last 40 years, from my early country songs to Grease, Xanadu and Physical, and some of my latest healing music as well.
My personal favorite, the movie Xanadu, has become something of a gay cult film. Tell us about filming that magical movie.
Xanadu was a great experience, as I got to work with some amazing people. Kenny Ortega, our choreographer, was so far ahead of his time, featuring so many styles of dance from breakdancing to tap to jazz! We had some problems with the script for that film, but the music was (and is) amazing, and the soundtrack was a big success. From the title song to "Magic" and "Suddenly," it gave me the chance to sing some great songs written by my longtime friend and producer, John Farrar, who also wrote "You're the One That I Want" and "Hopelessly Devoted to You" from Grease .
How was it acting, singing, and even dancing with the legendary Gene Kelly?
It was an incredible experience. Dancing with Gene Kelly was a dream come true. He was so warm and loving, but as you can imagine, I was so nervous to dance with him. But he was great, as a colleague and a friend. I will never forget working with him.
Both Del Shores and Leslie Jordan have told me how enthusiastic you were to work on Sordid Lives, and how much you brought to both the movie and the Logo TV series. What drew you to such an unusual project?
That was so much fun. I remember seeing the play Sordid Lives with my sister, who was good friends with Del (and still is). I told him, "If you ever make this into a movie, I want to play Bitsey." A few years later he called and said, "Well, we are making the movie, and I'm calling you!" It was such a blast, and the cast was totally amazing to work with, both on the film and the series!
(Photo: Chad Smith)
Any juicy stories about working with the hilarious Leslie Jordan?
I love Leslie, he is one of the funniest people I know. I wish I had juicy stories to share, but some things just need to be kept private! He really is so funny and talented.
We loved hearing you sing in the Sordid Lives movie and series! How about singing one of those songs here in San Francisco?
I've done it before, so who knows? Maybe. You just have to come to the show to find out.
I'm delighted you are returning to the screen in A Few Best Men. With the writer and producers of Death at a Funeral, the director of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and you as the Mother of the Bride, this looks like a hit! Was it fun to be back on the movie set?
That film was the most fun I have ever had on the set of a film. First, we got to film it in the Blue Mountains in Australia, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Stephan Elliott, the director, was so much fun and really helped me "go to places" I have never gone on film before. It was really fun to play a character that is so unlike me, very much like Bitsy in Sordid Lives. The cast of the film was hysterical on and off screen. From Kris Marshall to Rebel Wilson, they were a riot. Rebel played my daughter, and has done some great films, like Bridesmaids, and a few new ones that are about to be released in the US. She is going to be a huge star!
You are a songwriter as well as singer, inspired to write from personal experiences. How does it feel to hear another singer perform one of your own songs?
I love hearing someone else sing my songs. It gives me a great feeling to hear someone else's artistic interpretation.
Have you ever seen a drag queen lip-synch one of your recordings?
Not yet, but I am sure they are fantastic! When I performed at Mardi Gras in Sydney a few years ago, there were a few drag queens who were dressed as me at various stages of my career (from the country days to Sandy and Physical). It was fun and an honor to have them pay homage to those characters!
San Francisco set the standard in compassionate response to the AIDS epidemic, based largely on the devastating impact AIDS has had on our gay community. I understand that you responded to your own personal experiences with cancer by opening the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre in June this year.
I am thrilled that after nearly 10 years of raising almost $200 million, the doors opened on June 22. It was really special, as it happened almost 20 years to the day of when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. The Centre is going to provide amazing treatments and therapies. There will be complementary therapies from massage to meditation to music and art therapies to help the patients through the journeys. In addition to chemotherapy and radiation, these things are important to help heal the whole person: body, mind and spirit.