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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This Olivia special was aired for the first time in the summer of 1978 to tie in with the release of Grease. This special though is flawed by the use of annoying children who "act" out scenes in the program. They really grate on your nerves imitating Olivia and her guests. It looks as though the scenes with the children alone were not well rehearsed and taped after the shows main parts were finished. Olivia looks fabulous (as always) and sings a lot of her hits on the program. Her guests, ABBA and Andy Gibb, also sing their big hits. Having this on laser disc I am happy to say you can skip past the annoying children. I hope this is issued on DVD along with Olivia's fantastic 1977 special titled "Just Olivia."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Preface: When i was 15, my 20 years old sister recorded the show live
into VHS. She is so smart that she managed to cut out in real time all
the kids scenes. You can imagine the result: the best TV musical show
ever. I have 2 versions, that one, and a complete version. What happens
when i watch the second one is that i miss my sister's cuts so much...
Review: Olivia Newton John looks, sings, and acts amazingly. The music seems to be live and to me it's arranged even better than the original songs. I really loved the story of the show: the life time line. The way the songs are sequenced, the way they are modulated and chained is stunning and reflects amazingly the various ages narrated.
And i must mention the production design. The minimalist and futurist design is unique.
And the camera movements are stunning. In the first song there is a single dolly-in from very wide shot to just eyes shot, and back. The light on Olivia is always perfect.
Conclusion: If you want to fall in love (you decide if for Olivia, Agnetha, Frida, Andy, or the music) this show will do the job.
OLIVIA was an ABC-TV variety special vehicle for Olivia Newton-John,
then the reigning queen of popular music just as she was hitting new
levels of fame with her major film debut in GREASE. The songs are
largely in the mode of the easy listening pop Olivia became famous for
in the early 1970's, a style she would soon abandon with the release
later that year of her more rock-flavored music in the blockbuster
album TOTALLY HOT, followed by her even bigger hits in the format with
the 1980 XANADU soundtrack and 1981's PHYSICAL. Nobody could have
predicted this was the last (for some time at least) of sugary sweet,
gentle Olivia singing mostly soft pop music not unlike The Carpenters
or earlier stars like Patti Page.
This special has a loose "childhood" theme and since the guest stars are exclusively singers (with the exception of a cameo by Gary Frank of the TV drama FAMILY) the acting largely falls to several kid actors who appear to have been directed to be deliberately amateurish in their delivery, not unlike a school play. It really does not work well but there's not that much of it so it can be overlooked. The hour is packed with music, most of it such in melody form and there's a sensational hits melody with Olivia, ABBA, and Andy Gibb that must run at least fifteen minutes that seamlessly blends their various songs together, with the other performers often singing backup as one artist sings verses from their hits. Later in the show there's a nice roundtable like format as the vocalists sing hits of the past. This will likely be the only chance you'll ever get to hear ABBA do "Help Me Rhonda" or Olivia perform "Jailhouse Rock". There's also a cute bit in this getting to know each other segment when one of the guys in ABBA asks Andy Gibb, "do you have any brothers or sisters?" Soul gossip artist James Cleveland makes an appearance in another segment as he and Olivia sing a hand-clapping spiritual accompanied by a church choir.
This program was later released on videodisc back in the 1980's and may be hard to track down today but it's worth it to for a sweet piece of 1970's pop nostalgia with one of popular music's greatest female stars at the peak of her early career.
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