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September 22, 2014

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Olivia Newton-John gets a fast start on summer lovin’ in Las Vegas

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L.E. Baskow

Olivia Newton-John laughs at a joke by Las Vegas Host Committee Chairman Oscar Goodman during her official arrival with a welcome event at the Flamingo to begin her residency “Summer Nights” on Wednesday, April 2, 2014.

Olivia Newton-John Arrives in Las Vegas

Olivia Newton-John makes her official Las Vegas arrival with a welcome event at the Flamingo with Las Vegas Host Committee Chairman Oscar Goodman and Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Olivia Newton-John was welcomed to Las Vegas officially on Wednesday afternoon, cruising up the Linq corridor between Flamingo and the Quad in the black, flame-painted ’49 Mercury convertible that was dusted by Greased Lightning in “Grease.”

During this chilly, breezy afternoon event, Newton-John met a cowboy-hatted Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, who presented her with the first “key to the Strip,” and was toasted twice over by martini-packing former Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Detecting the grinning, wide-eyed look on Newton-John’s face as he sipped from his martini glass, Goodman turned to the recording and film star and said, “Seriously, I was mayor here for 12 years.”

On Thursday night, Newton-John was in the audience at “Absinthe” in Caesars Palace, and if she thought Goodman was a little nutty … well, meet The Gazillionaire.

To be sure, Newton-John is wasting scant time getting to know VegasVille in the leadup to her first resident headlining series ever on the Strip. Her “Summer Nights” series bows Tuesday night at the Flamingo’s Donny & Marie Showroom. The first set of shows runs through April 12. Newton-John returns May 6-10 and May 27-31. Her run is scheduled to close, as does the summer, at the end of August. (Tickets for Newton-John’s show are $69, $99 and $139, with a meet-and-greet package available for $249; call (702) 777-2782 or (855) 234-7469 or go to the Flamingo website for information.

Newton-John’s performances at the Flamingo were originally scheduled for last fall, but she tabled those plans so she could be with her sister, Rona, who was suffering from brain cancer. A model and an actress, Rona Newton-John died last May at age 70. It was several months before Olivia, the younger of the siblings at age 65, was ready to return to public performance.

During a recent phone interview before her arrival on the Strip, Newton-John, herself a breast cancer survivor, talked of her sister, show and history in Las Vegas. The highlights:

Olivia and her sister were fans of Vegas:

“She loved Vegas,” Newton-John said. “We would do Vegas shopping trips, shopping weekends all the time and go to the restaurants and enjoy the sights and each other.”

Returning to the stage was “too difficult” in the weeks after Rona’s death:

“I postponed just because it was too difficult for me to sing. That’s just what I needed,” Newton-John said. “People deal with grief in different ways. I know Marie Osmond came back to the stage right away, she needed to, when she has had struggles in her life. But I could not do that.

“I needed the time, and the message I have is that (Rona) wanted me to keep singing. She didn’t want me to stop.”

We won’t see “a Las Vegas show, per se”:

The performance will unspool similar to Newton-John’s performances on the road, which she says “are my hits, a journey through my music, from the beginning to now.” I’m lucky enough to have had enough success over the course of time, and that will make up my show. Do the songs from ‘Grease,’ ‘Xanadu’, my country hits, my oldies, my other singles in between and some new songs from my ‘Grace and Gratitude’ album, which was a healing album. And that will comprise the show.”

Her first booking was at one of the city’s most famous hotel-casinos:

“I was at the Las Vegas Hilton, I think in 1974, and I opened for Charlie Rich,” she says. “That was way, way back. I worked with Don Rickles, The Smothers Brothers, a bunch of other entertainers. Eddie Rabbit. Oh gosh, so many. Those are the ones who come to mind right away. I was the opening act for a long time. Bounced around to different hotels, but this is my first residency.”

Newton-John is fond of the evolution of Vegas:

“I think I’m going to enjoy it — Marie (Osmond) has said she wants me to stay as long as I like, and she really loves playing here,” she said. “I’m going to enjoy being in one place. Vegas hass really come up so much; it’s really fun to be there now, no matter what you like to do. It used to be just kind of a dusty street of a bunch of nightclubs and casinos, but not now.”

The fans still turn out just for a look at Newton-John:

“I have been very, very fortunate, over my career,” she said. “Now, I just hope they come to this show!”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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