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Letís Get Grease-y

CLEARWATER ó Whenever possible, I will scour the depths of entertainment to deliver to you, my multitudinous readership, a story of ill repute. I will subject myself to untold masochistic tortures. For this installment, Iím here at Ruth Eckerd Hall Saturday night to see the wondrous Olivia Newton-John with my good friend Christine (a veritable ONJ encyclopedia). Iím subbing for her significant other, Don, who is still recovering from the last ONJ concert they went to three years ago. Hereís my running diary of the proceedings:

7:55 ñ Christine is bubbling with excitement as we wait in the will call line; she tries to high-five me when we get the tickets.

8:03 ñ As we find our seats, the lights go down and local comedian Tim Wilkins goes on stage. Requisite old people and hurricane jokes; the crowd laps it up. This guy knows his audience.

8:15 ñ Wilkins tells an off-color ìIndianî joke, something along the lines of ìme havum peace pipe.î This late middle-aged crowd does not find the joke offensive, and laughs abound. He follows that one up with a four-year-old Titanic joke.

8:18 ñ Wilkins does a good Don Cornelius impersonation, to which this whitebread crowd makes no response.

8:23 ñ Wilkins mercifully leaves the stage, to great applause. As the lights come on, I notice serious amounts of PDA (public displays of affection, not personal digital assistants), by people old enough to make it more revolting than normal.

8:30 ñ While saving the purity of my eyesight, I notice a 12-foot statue of a turtle dressed up like a conductor, to the right, above the stage. I am instantly terrified.

8:38 ñ Upon further review, I realize the turtle is the coolest thing on earth, in a college football mascot kind of way. He wears a big, blue robe, carries a baton and looks very mellow, like he just had some quality Northern Lights. He will be henceforth referred to as Turtle the Conductor.

8:44 ñ As the members of the orchestra go on stage, people, who I guess are their friends, wave frantically. The musicians try not to look, in that ìtheyíre not with meî way.

8:47 ñ The drummer enters a Plexiglas cage, reminiscent of the one Tommy Lee had in the heyday of M^tley Crue. Rock!

8:48 ñ Olivia comes on stage, decked in a pink shoulderless dress with sparkles and a sheer shawl. She looks absolutely great for a 30-plus woman, never mind the fact that sheís over 50. Christine grabs my arm like a vice grip.

8:49 ñ Everyone else in the band is wearing black, just in case we didnít know who the star is.

8:50 ñ She opens with ìHave You Never Been Mellow?î Iím sure my turtle friend has.

8:54 ñ Next up is ìIf You Love Me, Let Me Know,î with the accompaniment of a wonderful í80s harmonica (think Michael McDonald). The audience tries to clap along, but it fades into a ìwe donít have that much rhythmî clap, then to no clap at all. Got to love Florida.

8:55 ñ People keep walking up to the stage to hand ONJ flowers. Christine says we should have brought flowers so we could have talked to Olivia. ìOh well,î I say. Olivia then waves her shawl over her head, eliciting cheers. Ainít no party like an ONJ party ícause an ONJ party donít stop.

8:57 ñ Olivia says she went to the beach today, and we are fortunate to live in Florida. Now letís get back to the polls, where theyíre still voting in Broward county.

8: 58 ñ ìXanaduî is next up. Christine rolls her eyes; itís not her favorite. A mother brings a little girl up to the stage to give Olivia some more flowers. The girl starts crying hysterically, and the mother rushes her away. Itís great to see a kid scarred for life, up close and personal. Years from now she will hear ìXanaduî on an oldies station and instantly collapse into the fetal position.

9:00 ñ Olivia finishes off ìXanaduî with a great high note; her voice hasnít missed a beat.

9:04 ñ We hear the first few strums of ìMagic,î and the crowd goes as nuts as they can. A guy from the audience walks to the stage, does nothing for a few seconds, and walks away. How many middle-aged men are still in love with Olivia? Thousands? Millions?

9:08 ñ Olivia starts to get down with the guitarist during his solo. How much play does ìHi, Iím the guitarist for ONJî get you? In this house you could get all the 40-year-old women you could ever want.

9:13 ñ Christine says the backup singer dances better than Olivia does. I agree; her voice hasnít faded, but her footwork is as stunning as Grease 2.

9:15 ñ In ìPlease, Mister, Pleaseî Olivia sings a line about good Kentucky whiskey, of which I could assuredly use right about now.

9:21 ñ The audience is stunned by an orchestral/calypso/muzak version of ìLetís Get Physical.î After a while, they realize what is going on and cheer madly. ONJ hits another great high note. This version is much more pleasing than the original. ONJ explains they changed it up for this tour because sheís ìtired of bopping about the stage.î So is the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Wait sheís from Australia, so the Eastern Hemisphere can be included, too.

9:25 ñ Christine tells me the next song is ìFalling.î My mind wanders now, and, like most men, it wanders toward sex. Must fight the urge to have impure thoughts about Olivia. I am reminded of the Jeffrey Ross quote from one of those roasts about Florence Henderson being the oldest woman heíd voluntarily sleep with. I avert my eyes to Turtle the Conductor and am instantly saved. Look to the turtle!

9:30 ñ As a tribute to the Sept. 11 attacks, ONJ sings a song I donít know.

9:34 ñ After nearly every song a roadie hands the guitarist a different guitar. ìDoes he have to change guitars for every song?î Christine asks. Heís probably gone through 11 guitars by now. Also, how much play does ìHi, Iím a roadie for ONJî get you? Probably the guitaristís sloppy seconds.

9:35 ñ People start screaming ìHappy Birthdayî to ONJ. That may explain the three dozen bouquets of flowers on the stage. That, and stalkers.

9:35 ñ During ìNot Gonna Give In to It,î ONJ dances with a flower in her mouth. Gyration City! She also gets down with the keyboard guy during his eight-second solo.

9:39 ó Hereís another song I donít know. Christine tells me itís ìSuddenly.î I must admit, Iíve been rifling Christine for song titles all night long. Some music editor theyíve got at The Oracle.

9:42 ñ Another guitar change.

9:43 ñ Next up is ìDonít Cut Me Down.î Christine and I roll our eyes at each other; she and Don warned me about this one. This song is about trees, and how we shouldnít cut them down. Hey, I like trees, trees are important, but nobody who isnít enrolled in elementary school should sing about trees. Christine: ìThis is what happens when Olivia writes a song.î

9:48 ñ Uh-oh, out come the leather jackets! Itís what weíve all been waiting for. Olivia and the male backup singer start up ìYouíre the One That I Want.î The two have good chemistry, not forced at all. Christine smiles broadly. The crowd goes wild; 60-year-olds moshing left and right. They also try to clap again, with comedic results.

9:53 ñ Olivia delivers with ìHopelessly Devoted.î To my right a 40ish couple start groping each otherís thighs. I struggle to keep the Taco Bell I had this afternoon within my digestive system.

9:58 ñ ONJ asks if anyone has seen Grease. Does she really need to ask?

10:00 ñ Olivia wants the audience to sing along to ìSummer Nights.î The audience wanes before the first bar ends. Got to love Florida.

10:01 ñ I am reminded of the Saturday Night Live episode in which Gwyneth Paltrow and Mango (played by Chris Kattan) tried to sing ìSummer Nights.î Paltrow missed her cue at the start of the song. Itís humbling to see big-time Oscar-winning stars mess up royally on national television. They edited the gaffe on the Comedy Central reruns, so if you missed it, you missed it.

10:04 ñ Olivia runs off the stage like it was on fire.

10:06 ñ Requisite encore. ONJ happily takes a picture with the little girl who cried earlier.

10:07 ñ ONJ sings ìI Honestly Love You,î Christineís favorite song; she bubbles over with glee. This song has PDA written all over it, and I avert my eyes to the only one here that understands me, Turtle the Conductor. This number finishes off the show, and me, as well.

Contact Andrew Pina at