The more time passes, the more extraordinary are the accomplishments of Olivia Newton-John. Forty-six years ago, Grease became the highest-grossing movie musical ever, and the soundtrack still breaks all records. In 1981, “Physical” topped the Billboard charts for 10 weeks straight. Helen Reddy encouraged the ambitious and talented Olivia to try her luck in the US – and crikey, did they hear her roar.

Not only did she sell more than 100 million albums (something infinitely more tangible than the mayfly life of Spotify clicks), this quintessentially Australian artist has created a music legacy that defined the 1980s in all its careless energy and pop pleasure. Her string of singles hits (many of them composed by Australian production wizard John Farrar) have become instantly evocative classics.

Hopelessly Devoted, the brainchild of Mark Sutcliffe (also responsible for stage tributes to Streisand, George Michael and David Bowie) has matched gifted vocalists with state orchestras in Melbourne, Brisbane, and now Adelaide with great success. Ably abetted by arranger and film composer Nicholas Buc, Sutcliffe has created classy, crisply managed productions that are very suitable centrepieces for events such as the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Under the capable baton of the stylish Jessica Gethin, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra opens with the “Oliviature”, a brief but impressive orchestral mashup of ONJ faves reminding us of the enticing hooks and melodies of her songbook, but also how key the orchestra (and the four-piece band) is to the success of the production.

“Dare to Dream” follows, introducing the four vocalists of the evening – Jess Hitchcock, Georgina Hopson, Christie Whelan Browne and David Campbell. They mix and match, as they do for the entire show, with an ease and good-natured camaraderie that is not only appealing but mirrors the down-to-earth lack of egotism for which Newton-John was renowned.

Hopelessly Devoted: Georgina Hopson, Totti Goldsmith and David Campbell. Photo: Claudio Raschella

Tottie Goldsmith, Newton-John’s niece and also a singer in her own right (she featured in ’80s girl band The Chantoozies ) provides irregular MC duties, in part to share her memories and affection for her famous aunt but also as goodwill ambassador for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, which opened in Melbourne in 2012. Its mission is to incorporate procedures and alternative therapies which Olivia found invaluable in her own, often arduous, treatment.

Goldsmith introduces Hitchcock to sing the murder ballad “Banks of the Ohio” which, like the later quartet version of “Take Me Home Country Roads”, harks from Newton-John’s early highly successful country pop phase. Hitchcock, who has splendid range and timbre, is a standout singer. Her performance of Xanadu’s “Suspended in Time” was a spellbinding moment in the Variety Gala and again, here in its context, it is a showstopper.

Each of the singers have their moments of excellence. Music theatre specialist Hopson delivers a plaintive “Please Mr Please”, and a wryly forthright reading of “Make a Move on Me”.  Whelan Browne’s powerfully conjured “Magic”, with the orchestra in full surge and a spicy guitar solo from Sam Leske, also takes us straight back to exotic Xanadu, as does “Suddenly”.

And, to close Act One, in pink lycra, headband and matching wrist accessories, Whelan Browne mordantly wiggles and star jumps through the pop masterpiece “Physical”. She sings it brilliantly and totally looks the part, but at the same time, it is in ironic quotation marks. Whelan Brown and her fellow singers, decked out in Adidas trackies, gently allow us a smile back at 1981.

The full orchestral arrangement is interesting also, replacing the heavy ’80s metallic synths, splash drumming and squealing guitars with a different but equally appealing vibrancy.

David Campbell, Jess Hitchcock, Christie Whelan Browne and Georgina Hopson get physical. Photo: Claudio Raschella

Fourth vocalist Campbell is the perfect complement to the trio of women. He shares a fine duet of “I Will be Right Here” with Hitchcock and his understated reading of Peter Allen’s “I Honestly Love You” is a highlight. As is his Act Two opener – Eric Carmen’s “Boats Against the Current”, introduced by Buc’s extended orchestral intro and haunting coda. It is a delight to have Campbell – one of the festival’s finest former artistic directors, and clearly a generous and collegial performer – back in town.

The program is nicely sequenced, never losing fluency and showcasing Newton-John songs at their best. Hitchcock is terrific with both “Soul Kiss” and the slow ballad, “Sam” (another Farrar composition, with Don Black and Shadows gun guitarist Hank Marvin). Whelan Browne strikes more gold with “A Little More Love” and the palpitating “Heart Attack”.

Hopson’s final solo, the titular “Hopelessly Devoted”, is pitch-perfect and Gethin’s orchestra splendidly envelops the vocal.

For encores it has to be the greasy masterpiece duet “You’re the One That I Want” – Campbell in Danny leather jacket and Whelan Brown, Olivia to the life, in black tights and rhinestone belt.

And to close, “Xanadu” sung by the whole cast. “A million lights are dancing and there you are, a shooting star.” That was Olivia Newton-John, and this production honours her memory. Not hopelessly, but triumphantly, devoted.

Hopelessly Devoted was performed once only at the Festival Theatre on June 15 as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which runs until June 22.

Read more Cabaret Festival coverage here.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard