There are very few performers who can juggle singing well with displaying showmanship in equal measure. Michael Jackson and Elvis come to mind (refer to the medley artists, as well). Celine Dion, on the other hand, isn’t among them.
Earlier this year she announced that after performing 1,141 shows she was ending her 16-year residency in Las Vegas. Now that’s she’s stepped into this new arena (literally) it’s clear from an artistic standpoint that those Sin City performances ran a little too long. She’s emerged from the experience still fundamentally a damn good singer but not an entertainer. If she were, she’d know better how to make the mental adjustment to stadium rock.
She’s become so comfortable singing to the same 4,000 seats in Caesars Palace each night she can’t get passed the fourth row. This was evident during her performance at the United Center in Chicago on December 1, 2019.
As someone who traverses venues both big and small the Broadway performer knows the point all too well: Sing from the front of house to the very last chair. That night-club aura Celine has grown so used to doesn’t exude the same ambiance or electricity at the 20,000-seat altitude. Maybe it shouldn’t. Therefore, she should stop packaging it as such. Sing, banter with audience, change clothing, rinse and repeat: That formula only works if you’re Diana Ross, Cher, Madonna or any number of their wannabe minions (think Mariah or Britney) whose personas are outsized and their costumes so freakish audiences can’t help but be entertained. By comparison, Celine radiates the shrinking violet bordering on meek.
No amount of wardrobe changes (four to be exact, five if you count Celine removing her sleeves) make up for the lackluster presentation. As far as onstage presence goes, she’d do well to channel her inner bitch.
The only time I felt any real connection to her several rows up was when she talked about how fans helped her cope during the “most difficult moments” of her life, mainly her husband René Angélil’s years-long battle with cancer and eventual death from the disease in 2016. Aside from being the title of her latest album, “Courage” the world tour also alludes to Celine summoning the fortitude to soldier on without René’s guidance as he’d shaped her entire career. I can’t help but wonder how he would’ve tweaked her performances here.
A good portion of Celine’s more popular tunes, from “If You Ask Me To” to “All by Myself,” have been performed by other artists first. In some cases, she has made them more popular than the originals. Nevertheless, the songs she chose to pay tribute to late artists Prince, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury didn’t showcase enough complexity for someone of her vocal prowess and were, therefore, a waste of time.
For all you Celine Dion diehards, this isn’t a scathing review inasmuch as simply an observation from someone who’s admired Celine’s voice since nearly the beginning and, rightfully, expected more.