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This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
“Man! I feel like a Woman!” Shania Twain has famously declared in song. The country music industry is having a harder time saying the same right now. Females represent not even a quarter of Billboard’s country airplay top 30, and the gals that do break through the biceps ceiling tend to trade on an image of rambunctious extended girlhood. To long for a more mature leading lady in the genre is to indulge in late-’90s nostalgia.
So what’s a country diva-lover to do? As Faith Hill suggested back on her second album, exercising greater premonitory powers than she could have imagined: “Let’s Go to Vegas.” That oldie is the opening number each night as she and her bulkier half, husband Tim McGraw, play The Venetian. A long half-block down the boulevard, Twain has just settled into a residency at Caesars Palace.
Neither one of these shows is half as stripped down as the three-year Vegas engagement Garth Brooks wrapped this fall, playing each night with just his acoustic guitar. With Twain and Hill, you want costume changes, and by God, costume changes you will get. (McGraw, for his part, does fine with a single suit, tie and hat.) But each takes a stab at Garth-style conversational intimacy.
Still, balancing NashVegas bombast and quiet, personal moments can feel a little schizo. Twain arrives via flying motorcycle in a glittery Marc Bouwer bodysuit that leaves nothing about the 47-year-old’s workout regimen to the imagination and makes two entrances — in gowns — on horseback, but once she gets chatty with the crowd, the Canadian expat comes off as a folksy charmer.
The vocal problems that, along with her divorce, conspired to keep her away from performing for the past eight years are evident at times, which might explain why the show’s two big ballads, “From This Moment On” and “You’re Still the One,” appear to be lip-synched, unlike the rest of the evening’s efforts. But charisma and the crowd’s good faith smooth over any rough edges, as does the pop-tastic durability of the feminist-bubblegum classics she and ex-husband Mutt Lange concocted during the ’90s. Much of the first half has Twain doing her earliest and country-est songs on a saloon set, along with a host of male dancers whose leaps suggest a live staging of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. That might be the kind of imagery Nashville would like to move past, yet it’s nice to see Twain exercise her inner goofball. There also is a campfire segment in which audience members are brought up for a hootenanny that includes an unlikely acoustic version of “Rock This Country” before things go glam again just in time to send the crowd out into Caesars’ fake Rome.
Hill and McGraw advertised their engagement by assuring we’d see a lot more of them together than we ever did on their previous Soul2Soul arena tours. They only partly live up to that vow, as much of the show consists of a tag-team approach that has the marrieds changing places every two or three numbers. It’s hard to complain about that when Hill is powering through her signature ballads “Breathe” and “Cry” or when McGraw is bounding through the floor level doing an arena-rock-worthy “Felt Good on My Lips.” But one soul at a time wasn’t what we were promised. After kicking off with “Let’s Go to Vegas,” it was 10 tunes in before the opening-weekend crowd got another true duet, on the weeper “Like We Never Loved at All.”
There’s a seated, talky segment that feels a little like a press-less press conference, but these two give good banter, not all of it scripted. “The kitchen, the pantry and the laundry room,” said McGraw when Hill posed one of the mildly ribald questions fans most want the answer to. Things really got electric when the two sat down with their faces inches apart for a duet of the simmering ballad “I Need You,” which unexpectedly turned out to be the show’s climax, subdued as it was.
Maybe after that, these two just really do need to get a room every night.
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