When considering a region that shares climactic characteristics with Las Vegas, northern Ontario might not immediately spring to the fore.
But when attesting to her vocal durability in Las Vegas, Shania Twain remembers that Canadian cold pocket.
“I grew up in the winter in northern Ontario, and there is very dry air there in the winter,” Twain said Friday afternoon during a Caesars Palace news conference held a day before the premiere night of her “Still the One” residency at the Colosseum. “So far, I’ve been here for, what, six weeks now, and I’m singing hard every day. I’m fine, unless I get a cold or a flu here, but I’m not finding it an exceptional challenge. I didn’t grow up in a humid place, and I think that will help me.”
The arid air and busy schedule of Las Vegas headliners is a genuine concern. In the past year, such star vocalists as Donny Osmond and Celine Dion have taken breaks from their Strip stage shows (Dion’s was a lengthy hiatus from the Colosseum) to rest their voices. Though “Vegas Throat” or “Vegas Voice” was not specified as the sole reason for their vocal concerns, the climate has for decades been rough on singers who perform regularly on the Strip (the late comedy impressionist/vocalist Danny Gans was known to use sign language during off-stage conversations so he could reduce the strain on his voice).
Twain’s voice is a particular concern, as she has recently suffered from vocal dysphonia, or a constricting of the muscles around her vocal chords. This is not a condition that damages the chords but rather restricts their flexibility. This is not an ideal malady for someone embarking on a two-year, 60-show commitment at a 4,000-seat theater.
But Twain is confident that she will be able to deliver.
“I am being very conscientious,” she said. “I take a lot of steam showers, and (former Colosseum headliner) Bette Midler has recommended some (throat) sprays. Everybody has given me their little tips, and I’m just being very careful. I take good care of myself.”
AEG Live/Concerts West President John Meglen, whose company produces and promotes shows at the Colosseum, reminds of the Colosseum’s intricate climate-control system designed specifically to protect the voices of the venue’s invaluable performers.
“We’ve already taken these concerns into account,” he said in the hallway after Friday’s press conference, in which he did not participate. “Let’s face it: We’ve still got the greatest microclimate systems in all of the dressing rooms. If you like humidity, those dressing rooms are a great place to hang out. There’s a lot of steam. We try to keep the moisture on the stage; we’re blowing warm air there. You can see it — if you look at certain times, you’ll see it. You’ll think it’s smoke, but actually it’s warm, humid air blowing up.”
Similar to a Major League Baseball manager protecting his starting pitching staff, AEG Live officials caution against overusing their headliners.
“The difference today is, you’ll notice, it’s really hard for us to get five shows in a week out of anyone anymore, mainly for that reason — the health of the artist,” Meglen said. “We really try not to do it anymore. When you have an artist-in-residence, you need to make sure they will make it to every show. Now with the new schedule, we have Elton (John), Celine, Rod (Stewart) and Shania here. It’s given us less number of shows per artist, and hopefully that helps.”
The risk of burning out a star is not to be taken lightly.
“You have to be careful, absolutely,” he said. “If we lose our artist, we can’t do a show. In the Cirque [du Soleil] shows, a guy can get injured, and they can replace him. Or you can replace a dancer in 'Jubilee.' But if we lose the artist, we’re dead.”
More from the Friday session:
• Twain’s fans are eager to see her perform a duet with her sister, Carrie Ann, for the first time.
“My baby sister never wanted to be a part of the show. She sounds identical to me, but if anyone hits a bad note, it's her," Twain said with a laugh. Carrie Ann is two years younger than Shania, who is 47.
• There is a horse to be used in the show, and early reports are that Twain sings “Still the One” either to the horse or to the audience while leading the horse around the Colosseum stage.
“You will see a horse onstage in a really big way,” Twain said. “(But) it’s not a circus; it’s not a trick show. This is all talent and hard work and vision. It’s not like a circus is what I’m trying to say. It’s very much like a concert that is personalized for the environment of the room. That’s the best way I can describe it.”
• Meglen was asked how the hotel and AEG Live would market Twain to those potential ticket-buyers who might not be fans, those who would favor Train over Twain.
“We had a very similar situation with Celine, if you remember,” he said. “A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, I’m not really a fan,’ but once they saw the show, they became fans. I think you’re going to have a lot of that here. It’s not just about the country audience. She’s very crossover. If you look at Shania’s record sales, ticket sales historically, she’s a global artist, and that’s a very important thing.”
Similarly important are the thousands of Canadian contacts the hotel has developed as a result of ticket orders for Celine’s shows.
“As we’ve always said, we try to focus on Middle America first, which is everything between New York and L.A. — or middle Canada, in this case,” Meglen said. “We are absolutely looking at Celine as a model, and we have a tremendous Canadian database, to begin with. Just using that alone is usually something that will help in the success of the show.”
• Twain was flanked by two trusted members of the show’s creative team, director Raj Kapoor and costumier Mark Bouwer. Twain herself was introduced to the assembled media as “creator, executive producer and newest resident artist at the Colosseum” and says she often pops awake with an idea for the show and sends an email to one of her collaborators. “There’s a great deal of detail that never stops going through our minds. I am emailing at 2 or 3 in the morning and getting immediate responses.”
She later gave a crisp, concise dissection of why she does what she does: “I like to direct, I like to design, and I like to create. I like to communicate with people, I love the audience, and I want to touch them. I want to know them. I want to interact with my talent with people. That is really what I do, and I made a career out of it, but it is a really personal journey.”