Like Fred and Ginger, Bogie and Bacall -- and even Wilder and Pryor -- Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta will be inextricably linked forever. That they only appeared on screen for two films, the smash 1978 musical "Grease" and the largely forgettable rom-com "Two of a Kind" (1983) seems beside the point.
There was always a sense that Newton-John (as Sandy) and Travolta (as Danny) belonged together -- and not just on celluloid. Plus, there were the "Grease" songs, which remain staples in the Gen-X musical lexicon and now are a big part of Newton-John's setlist. Included on that setlist, of course, are songs from the new Newton-John/Travolta collaboration, the holiday album "This Christmas," chock full of standards typical of albums in this milieu. It marks the first time the duo has collaborated musically since, gulp, "Two of a Kind."
Prior to her show at the Newberry Opera House on Dec. 6, Newton-John talked about the genesis of "This Christmas," the enduring legacy of "Grease" (and the odds of a "Grease 3") and the chance that Travolta might cameo at an upcoming concert.
Question. How did the collaboration with John Travolta come about? Did someone suggest it or did one of you come up with the idea?
Answer. Last Christmas, John and I were texting, wishing each other a Merry Christmas, and I told him I heard "You're the One That I Want" was voted the number one duet of all-time. He said we should do a Christmas duet as we both love Christmas music. A month later we ran into each other at a Qantas event and he said, "Let's do an entire album of Christmas songs." And I said we should do it as a fundraiser for our charities (the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre and The Jett Travolta Foundation), and the idea was born. We had so much fun working together again after all these years.
Q. When was the last time you watched the music video for "Let's Get Physical," and what are your impressions of it now?
A. Oh gosh, it's been a while. Maybe when I did an episode of "Glee" with Jane Lynch, when we re-created the song. It was surreal because they re-created the exact set of the music video from the '80s for "Glee," and I was having flashbacks. At the time I thought the song might be a bit too racy, so I called my manager and said "pull it" from the record and he said, "It's too late; it's gone to radio." It was crazy because it went to No. 1 really quickly. To try and change the concept of it I said, "Let's make the video about exercise," and, of course, that just made it even bigger. It is funny that the song was banned in Utah, and when I look back at it today -- compared to what's on the radio and in videos now -- I think, "Wow, it is so tame for now." But then, it was a little racy.
Q. You do a lot of material from "Grease" when you perform live. Are you amazed at how enduring those songs are after all these years?
A. Not really. That movie seems to find a new audience every year because the music is so good and the film has such color and energy. I love seeing the audiences at my concerts because I will see a grandmother with her daughter and her granddaughter, all loving the music together. I have been very blessed to have so many wonderful things happen in my career and that really was one of the highlights that changed my life.
Q. If someone had a brilliant script idea for "Grease 3" that would, of course, include you as Sandy, would you be up for it?
A. Oh, they bring that idea up every decade or so. I don't think so. Why mess with the original?
Q. For years you didn't tour at all and performed very little. Why stay away so long, and what made you come back?
A. I've been performing for quite a while. I took some time off years ago when my daughter was born and when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, but I have been doing shows quite a bit -- just not a big tour like the one I am on now. I am really having so much fun with this show. I have the best band and we really love touring together and, I am thrilled to see that people still turn up.
Q. Are there any chances John Travolta will cameo at any upcoming gigs? Have you asked him?
A. For now it's just me and my band. Our schedules are so crazy with my music and touring and his films and promotion, but we will be seeing each other in Los Angeles and New York to make some appearances and do some television shows together. It's going to be a lot of fun, especially to spend time together at this time of year.