LAS VEGAS — Celine Dion said it over and over as the moments unfurled onstage Saturday night at Caesars Palace: "Today is a beginning. It is not an end." But the singer grabbed hold of her final performance of "A New Day," the show that's made her a Vegas staple for the past half-decade, as if it were a last communique before her exile.
In reality, she's taking a couple of months off, then embarking on a world tour. Dion will likely return to Vegas too; she's keeping her home near the city.
But with her gale-force voice and unflagging faith in big emotions, Dion is the queen of going over whatever top presents itself. This finale was a Matterhorn.
Fans who can't stand having missed this milestone can see a film version in 200 theaters nationwide tonight. (For a local list, see www.fathomevents.com.)
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, December 21, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Celine Dion: A review in Monday's Calendar section of Celine Dion's final performance of "A New Day" in Las Vegas last Saturday said the concert had been filmed and would be playing in movie theaters that Monday night. The movie event was a performance of "A New Day" recorded prior to Saturday's finale.
Directed by Cirque du Soleil veteran Franco Dragone, "A New Day" melds hits from throughout Dion's career within a florid dreamscape of screen-projected heavy weather, high-energy dancers and ear-shattering melodic rock. Focused on massive power ballads with a few uptempo dance numbers to quicken the pulse (and one ill-advised tribute to Frank Sinatra), the show mixes feminine dreaminess and carnival-esque aggression. The deafeningly amplified pennywhistle that begins Dion's signature ballad, "My Heart Will Go On," pretty much defines the show's odd balance.
Saturday, though, the show itself wasn't news. Its finality was. To honor that -- and to give something extra to an audience clearly present to witness a historic event -- Dion and her team prepared exclusive extras that proved more affecting than most of the corporate pop songs she so energetically sang.
First was a lengthy behind-the-scenes video, featuring interviews with Dion, her husband-manager, Rene Angelil, and others involved in creating "A New Day." In several between-song speeches meant, she said, to "elongate the evening," Dion further reflected on an era she's wistfully ready to leave behind.
Whether retelling a famous anecdote about losing her shoes on opening night, remembering her tearful performance the evening after her father's death in 2003 or singing yet another chart topper, Dion was full of gauche sincerity.
Singing and dancing, Dion moved across the massive stage like an ice skater or a runway model, each step stylized to make her look huge. Even her tears were flowery, like a silent film star's. But her words were down to earth.
Eulogizing "A New Day," Dion mourned the family of "dancers, singers, musicians and technicians" on the verge of dissolution, choking up about the "undreamable" dream they'd made real through more than 700 performances. She went on to thank everyone from Dragone to the domestic help who "kept our families safe." And she extolled her fans, saying they'd shocked her with their loyalty.
Dion also emphasized that her time in Vegas wasn't just another gig. "We're not only talking about music," she intoned, "we're talking about five years of life."
What mattered most to Dion about those five years wasn't artistic achievement or even the economic triumph that changed the game for A-list performers in Vegas. Dion's cherished accomplishment is one her average-gal fans also seek: that elusive balance between work and life.
Dion's son, Rene-Charles, who is almost 7, was the other star of Saturday's performance, though only after the encore did he leave his orchestra-section seat and shyly walk onstage to hug his mother. Dion's focus during the show kept returning to the boy. When she spoke of him, she let her goofy, uncontrollably loving side show, and its warmth tempered the theatricality that can make her performances feel overblown.
Working mom is a good role for Dion. She's never been skilled at projecting sexiness (a couple of painful numbers featuring skin-baring male dancers made that obvious) or the spunky "girl power" of, say, Gwen Stefani. By focusing her earnest passion on her son (and putting her much older husband in the role of the strong, silent, mercifully ignored type), Dion is updating her image in tune with her maturing female fan base.
She isn't faking it, either. Sometimes when performers show off their children, it's creepy, with all the markings of a stunt. Rene-Charles, with his golden mama's-boy mane, is definitely a prized kid. But whenever Dion would catch his eye, she'd lapse into a little dance of hand gestures and funny facial expressions that was as unstudied as her power-ballad chest thumps were predictable.
Dion did seem a bit sad to be leaving "A New Day" itself, not just the work-at-home lifestyle it afforded her. Her superhuman vocal cords rarely let her down (her pitch is so good that it often seemed like she was lip-syncing), but at the very end of "My Heart Will Go On," when she meant to hold the note a little longer, her voice collapsed with a sigh and a little choke.
The hand she tried to hold aloft, as if she were waving from a float, dropped to her cheek. For a split second, Dion was actually at a loss. But then the moment passed; she returned her hand to princess position and waved us all goodbye.
By the time she returned to sing "The Christmas Song" and walk Rene-Charles off the stage, she was completely composed again.