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Dion's Versatile Voice Will Go On

Pop music review: Forum concert shows superstar's talent, personal touch run deeper than her popular 'Titanic' anthem.

October 23, 1998|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The only real question about Celine Dion's concert Wednesday was at what point the Titanic would come cruising into the Great Western Forum. Fortunately, it didn't arrive until the encore, which allowed plenty of time for a view of Dion's abilities that reach beyond the now well-worn melody of her blockbuster hit from the "Titanic" soundtrack, "My Heart Will Go On."

And that view was the most impressive aspect of the performance. Though the program emphasized material from her current album, "Let's Talk About Love"--including a version of the title track in which she was accompanied by a children's chorus--the heart of her presentation rested in her extraordinary poise and versatility as an entertaining artist.

Anti-Dion forces commonly list her big sound and what they describe as her "overkill" production as primary annoyances. But she answered both critiques with ease.

There's no doubt that Dion has one of the most impressive vocal instruments in all of pop music, particularly well-documented in Wednesday's rendering of "Tell Him"--a video duet with a recorded Barbra Streisand in which the two divas impressively matched high notes. But it also is an instrument that allowed her to rock with "Declaration of Love," conjure up disco rhythms with "Staying Alive" (done while wearing a white outfit and doing Travolta high stepping), perform (again via video) with the Bee Gees, and sing a rollicking duet on "Let's Talk About Love" with the song's writer, Carole King (live and on stage).

Versatility aside, Dion's most impressive singing came via a lovely, low-keyed set of her own favorites that included a stunning interpretation of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," a beautifully harmonized rendering of the Beatles' "Because," and a highly personalized, intimately passionate performance of "All the Way."

*

All this was accomplished in a setting that managed to use the complicated panoply of big-venue technology--lighting, special effects, stage elevators, etc.--with subtle discretion, always suborning the stagecraft to the most effective presentation of the music. And Dion, using her backdrop perfectly, cruised the large, circular stage with ease, frequently acknowledging her talented accompanists.

What about the Titanic? It magically appeared in the dark before the encore. Or at least the guard rail from the ship's prow materialized at one end of the stage, allowing Dion to do a dramatic presentation of her familiar anthem to love. It was a fitting climax to a show by a performer who, despite her superstar status, managed to create a sense of personal interaction with every member of the packed house.

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