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BY EMMA TROTTER | December 1, 2012 | People
If any superstar ever deserved a comeback tour, it’s country sensation Shania Twain. After a rocky childhood and swift ascent to country-pop stardom, she took a career hiatus, during which she suffered a devastatingly painful public divorce amid swirling reports of her ex-husband’s infidelities (with her close friend). The singer, most known for holding the title of best-selling female artist in country music history, then suffered an unthinkable loss: her voice. But this unstoppable woman known for empowering lyrics (spiced with teases such as “Let’s go!” and “Kick it!”) is gearing up for the mother of all comebacks: being the very first country star to headline at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
The “now-Shania,” as she calls herself, is currently in a peaceful place. Now married to the ex-husband of the friend who stole her first one, she has come back from despair and into the spotlight in Still the One, her two-year residency that opens December 1. In yet another career milestone, she produced this show from start to finish, the first time she has ever done so.
“It’s so exciting,” she says. “My husband always reminds me that it’s a huge part of my pleasure that I get to be so involved in the show. It has taken courage, but the achievement of getting back up onstage again and singing is rewarding. Still the One forced me into not only singing again, but producing and directing, which isn’t new to me, but on this scale it’s entirely new. So it’s opening this whole other world to me.”
Less than two months away from her splashy debut, Twain is eager to dish the details. She pauses when asked about the last time she performed onstage and guesses it could have been seven years ago. But despite her hiatus, Twain’s momentum to perform for her fans again is now boiling over, and she’ll be ready to rock her country-sized comeback when she hits that famous stage in the footsteps of Celine Dion, Elton John, Cher, Bette Midler, and Rod Stewart.
Caesars scored a huge coup with Twain, the renowned showroom’s first country act, an offer she calls “humbling.” That she got to design the show top to bottom is icing on the cake: Every single detail that makes up the 90-minute production—lighting, staging, the song list, costumes—has her fingerprints on it. Twain also handpicked every staff member and enlisted one of the best in the biz, Raj Kapoor, to direct Still the One, one of the biggest projects of his career. In true Strip fashion, he took the best moments of her career and Vegas-ized them.
“The show is a catalog of her work,” Kapoor says, “but we have framed it in a much bigger, more theatrical framework. It pays homage to the looks from her videos and other moments you remember her by, or certain performances. Iconic costumes are reinterpreted. It satisfies her fan base who loved her years ago, but now it’s done in a totally different way.”
For someone who hasn’t toured since 2004, Twain had a huge undertaking in conceptualizing and designing each piece of the puzzle.
“I have written this show from the very first draft of its existence,” Twain says. “It is a healthy distraction, to be responsible for other things and stop dwelling on ‘Did I hit that note today?’” And remember that sexy, famously daring leopard outfit from the “That Don’t Impress Me Much” music video? That’s in there, with a Vegas-worthy twist—and help from NYC fashion designer Marc Bouwer. “I’m going in a more glamorous direction, and there is more fashion than in my other tours,” Twain says. “It’s very cinematic and expressive.”
When she first burst onto the Nashville landscape in 1995 with The Woman in Me, Twain shook up the country-music world with lyrics empowering women to ditch unimpressive men and go out with their girlfriends. Her cheerleader-esque messages amassed her a legion of female fans who worshipped her sass and spunkiness that made country fun again. Men loved her teased hair, pageant smile, and killer body, and even country naysayers melted during her love songs “You’re Still the One” and “From This Moment On”—both from 1997’s landmark Come on Over, which eventually became both the top-selling country album and best-selling female album of all time.
Humble beginnings in her native Canada and an insistence on writing her own material added to her sincerity, which shone through even in the biggest of sold-out arenas. As her prominent rise to the top plowed ahead, she had to face a grueling schedule and the pressure to make every album better than her last—and then deal with a marriage strained by it all. Finally, in 2004, she stepped out of the limelight and retreated back to her château in Switzerland to raise her child, Eja, with her producer/husband, Robert “Mutt” Lange. That idyllic family portrait came to a screeching halt in 2008, when she discovered Lange had been carrying on an affair with the couple’s married assistant, Marie-Anne Thiébaud, a woman she counted as one of her closest friends. The scandal traumatized her, and the grief affected her so deeply that she nearly lost her singing voice permanently.
It was during this time that she was first approached with the Colosseum offer. Twain—who soon miraculously found love with Thiébaud’s then-husband, Frédéric, after they comforted each other during the collapse of both their marriages—was readying for the release of the memoir she penned, From This Moment On. She was also putting together the Why Not? With Shania Twain series, in which the famously private songstress documented her therapeutic journey of healing for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN.
“For the whole Why Not? experience, I really pushed myself out the door and said, ‘You’ve got to try to find out why your voice is not there for you,’” she says of her condition, called dysphonia. “It’s been such a huge, long process.” It was during what she calls the “jumping out of the airplane period of my life”—something she literally did in one of the episodes on OWN—where she began to think seriously about a Las Vegas residency. To test her voice, she even recorded a new song, “Today Is Your Day,” with megaproducer David Foster, which she’ll perform in Still the One.
“When I went through the process in the studio with Lionel Richie, and the Christmas duet with Michael Bublé—and those being more out of my range than I would normally sing anyway—they came out great,” Twain says. “I was so happy with them, and I thought, Okay, well if I can do that, then I can do anything.” She emerged more resilient than ever.
“This is somebody who has an amazing work ethic,” Kapoor says. “The hunger to be an entertainer never left her. The aura she puts out is absolutely magical.” Once she realized that the Colosseum’s groundbreaking resident artist program—beginning with Celine Dion’s A New Day… at the peak rather than the end of her career—brought on a tidal wave of sold-out shows hosting the best in the music biz, Twain realized she was being offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
“Celine turned the [perception of Vegas as where artists go to retire] all around because she brought in the true potential of what Vegas has to offer: the most remarkable, state-of-the-art technology that could be used for concert performing, and not just Cirque du Soleil [shows],” she says. “Bringing together the best quality production with a performing artist concert changed everything. To be invited to do it, that’s quite an honor.”
Looking back, Twain admits she never dreamed that one day she would have a comeback with her name lit up on a Vegas marquee.
“Vegas is the mecca right now for the most qualitative performing arts anywhere in the world,” she says. “There are huge numbers of country music fans, and they deserve to come to Las Vegas to see the top, first-class spectacles in their genre.”
For fans breathlessly awaiting some new tracks, no new album is currently in the works, though Twain hints that now that Still the One is going, her next project to tackle is hitting the recording studio. “I’m so confident how my voice is coming across in studio after working with Lionel and doing ‘Today Is Your Day,’” she says. “I know I am ready to go back in the studio and record an album, I just don’t have the time yet.”
When I remind her that fans will be booking trips and flying in from all over the world specifically to see her, I get an extra dose of Twain’s signature perkiness, as she gets giddy describing her excitement to see her fans.
“I don’t want to lose contact with them,” she says. “I don’t want to lose that element of being able to touch people and connect with them and not be separated from them. For me it’s like a dream, so to the fan it must be as well. All of the satisfaction will be magnified.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK ABRAHAMS; Hair by Mary Ellen “Frankie” Foye; Makeup by Matthew Van Leeuwen