Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking hit British theatre like a…
I went to a Celine Dion concert and loved it. There. I’ve said it. Didn’t sound right. Doesn’t look right. But, it’s true. In fact, the entire evening, with its unexpected joys and hysteria will go down as one of the best nights out I’ve had out in months. No, still doesn’t sound right.
The evening with Celine was prompted by one of her dancers, Melissa G. She’s a friend- and an L.A. based performer who rose to fame aged 8 when she provided the singing voice of the young Cece Bloom in the Bette Middler weep-a-thon Beaches.
That girl had a camp start to life. And it shows.
Melissa’s grown up to be a stunning, circus-skilled, club diva and a Celine Dion backing dancer. She landed in London with the Celine circus and kindly offered us a ‘staff rate’ ticket, but didn’t specify what this might cost. This spawned a surreal debate: how much would you be prepared to pay to see an act you’d usually avoid.
I’ve switched radio stations, turned off the telly and walked from a nightclub due to Celine-induced horror. The fact that tickets to the O2 show were £300 on eBay proved unhelpful and rather disturbing.
I’d pay that for Led Zep, perhaps, but er, CELINE DION? We decided that £20 would be fair tax for an event that had garnered grudgingly rave reviews.
We were met at the box office by Nick, Celine’s personal bodyguard. He’s a handsome giant with a cheery disposition not usually found in security staff. Armed with backstage passes featuring a lone Celine eye, we were swept through secret, technical O2 corridors like kids on a rollercoaster.
United with a freshly coiffed and lipsticked Melissa, she then escorted us to the catering department. Surrounded by the army of Celine staff, we enjoyed a 3-course meal which bettered anything we’d eaten that week.
Melissa was regaling us with tales of high-heel dancing injuries and the need for modest outfits when performing in Arab countries, when suddenly, Celine’s husband joined our table.
René Angélil (RIP) proved charming and civilised company. We were a little unnerved when he joined our party, ‘cause essentially, he’s the boss and we were sneering freeloaders. As I chomped on my celeriac mash, René chatted enthusiastically, looking like a mix of Chairman Mao and God. Turns out, he’s much nicer than either of them.
We had great seats; level with the stage and close to the double-ended catwalk that intersected the set. When Celine came to our side of the stadium, we could almost smell her hairspray.
Every time her rhinestone flares flapped near us, the manic fans in our block jumped up and waved at her hysterically.
While charmed by Celine’s endearing sincerity, leaping up to dance to a power-ballad proved a bridge too far. At one point, with hawk-like precision, she spotted our static froideur, while all around us, excitable fans jumped from their seats and howled homage.
She paused, mid-performance, looked us in the eyes and delivered a theatrical expression of sadness. She then urged us to stand. The entire O2 stadium became focussed on our response to Celine’s heartfelt appeal. Obviously, we stood up. Celine beamed. The audience arounce us cheered. It was a fun moment, slightly tarnished by the fear that a film of us dancing to Celine might go viral.
Surrounded by queens
We laughed during every song. It’s her gestures and facial expressions that provide the comedy. The mockery was affectionate, because it’s hard to feel any malice towards her. It wasn’t cutting edge art, but there was never a dull moment.
If forced to make a judgement, one might observe that she lacks funk. One feels it especially when Dion is covering soul classics. It’s a largely visual, not an audio issue. Her version of ‘River Deep/Mountain High’ absolutely rocked, but only when you closed your eyes.
It’s her ungainly grooving around the stage that evokes an auntie at a wedding. Oddly enough, those dance shapes are also the key to her appeal, making her vulnerable, uncool and lovable.
The joy of watching Dion is that she owns her lack of street cred with gusto and carries it with great humour.
After the show, we went backstage and joined a booze-fuelled party with Celine’s dancers. Some had remained loyal to her after a four years stint in Vegas. No-one had a critical word for her.
The consensus seemed to be that she’s quite eccentric, utterly sincere, enjoys a glass of wine and is, but is genuinely lovely to work with. You don’t hear that about Madonna do you?
They asked us to join them on a coach up to Birmingham (for the next date of the tour). Melissa and a gang of hot, dancing boys begged us to abandon work commitments, get on the road and continue the party at their hotel at the other end of the motorway.
After much thought, we decided not to.
I don’t know what’s more shameful, that I thoroughly enjoyed the concert or that I turned down a once in a lifetime opportunity to run away with the Celine Dion circus.
First Published: TheHospitalClub.com