Olivia Newton-John puts philanthropy before song

CorrespondentFebruary 14, 2013 

Olivia Newton John comes to the DPAC.

COURTESY OF OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN

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    Who: Olivia Newton-John

    When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

    Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham

    Tickets: $40-$75

    Details: 919-680-2787; www.dpacnc.com

According to Olivia Newton-John, if you can give her 70 minutes of your time, she’ll give you her entire musical history.

That’s the approximate time she says her touring concert show runs these days. “I mean, the show’s gonna be, you know, a journey through my music,” says Newton-John, on the phone from northern California. “So, it’ll be the hits – from ‘Grease’ and ‘Xanadu’ and my country years and my ‘Grace and Gratitude’ CD – and kind of a journey through my musical life.”

As she makes her way to the Durham Performing Arts Center to perform early next week, the U.K.-born, Australian-bred pop icon has found that her audiences have been made of a steady sea of old and new faces.

“The audiences are very mixed,” she says. “They’re from 9 to 90, because you’ve got the little kids who’ve just discovered ‘Grease” to the grandparents who brought them. So, it’s a very interesting mix of people – old fans, new fans, medium fans. So, it’s like a family audience, really.”

While it’s quite likely she’ll be performing hits, rarities and even some recent stuff during her show, we may be too far away from the holiday season for Newton-John to dip into songs from “This Christmas,” the collection of Christmas duets she did with her most famous duet partner, John Travolta, which came out last year.

Newton-John says she asked her “Grease” co-star if he wanted to perform a Christmas ditty when she heard that “Summer Nights,” their duet from “Grease,” was voted the best duet of all time in a poll. One Christmas ditty soon led to talks to record an entire album of Christmas standards. “We decided we’d only record songs that we both like, and it was really quite easy,” she says. “We just sang a whole bunch, and the favorites that we both liked became the songs on the album.”

While she had fun getting back together with Travolta, music appears to be a small part of her life these days. A breast cancer survivor, Newton-John has spent most of recent years in philanthropy mode, raising money for breast cancer research, along with serving as a spokesperson for breast cancer awareness.

“It’s been 10 years fundraising for me, and I’ll continue to do that,” she says. “And that’s really, really, really important to me, because I went through breast cancer and, so, I know how important it is to help heal the whole person and not just the body. You need to help support the person mentally and spiritually through the journey.”

Newton-John made sure that people with breast cancer in her homeland had that support when she helped build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia. Even with recent reports surfacing that the center was at risk of infecting its patients because fungal spores created by a water leak were detected in clinics last month (spores and dust were blown out of the water-affected areas through fans), she’s still proud of what the place has accomplished.

“I heard about it,” she says. “I hear it’s really not a real problem. The only questions are gonna be directed back to the hospital, because I’m not there and not the official person to talk to about that. But I believe it’s not a serious problem. That had to be addressed.”

In fact, reports have just surfaced that she’ll cut back on touring to devote more time to the center. Even though she has many possible musical plans for the future – performing in Vegas, dropping dance tracks she did with her nephew – Newton-John is always willing to give back. For Newton-John, her musical journey could not have continued without it.

“I think when you go through an experience like cancer, it makes you really aware of vulnerability and your humanity,” she says. “And I think, as you get older, it’s a natural part of life to want to give back and help. And I’ve been so blessed in my life, and I’m so grateful for all I do have, giving back is just natural. It seems natural, don’t you think?”

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