TAMPA — Celine Dion is not the vulnerable type. When she launches into a supposedly sensitive song like All By Myself, she approaches it with all the subtlety of a runaway beer truck, squinting her eyes shut as she holds a high note at an ear-piercing volume. But there's still something endearing about the French-Canadian diva, and it probably has to do with her weirdly awkward stage persona, all those chest-thumping, fist-pumping, finger-pointing, air guitar-strumming gestures that keep comedians in business. Dion's fans love her dorkiness.
She brought her Taking Chances tour to the St. Pete Times Forum on Wednesday night, kicking things off by climbing on top of a piano to belt out I Drove All Night, the old Cyndi Lauper (and Roy Orbison) hit, to a thudding dance beat.
As a piece of theater, the show is state of the art arena pop, directed by Jamie King, also responsible for staging tours of Madonna, Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne. Dion performs in the round from a vast square stage, with three backup singers and a seven-piece band. There are video screens everywhere, including a large cubic screen hung over the stage that dominates the production. From time to time, the singer would stride up a catwalk that extended into the audience to be bathed in light from all the flash cameras.
Dion, who turns 41 in March, has eight dancers, and they would come on to give her a chance to make a costume changes. The most effective was when the dancers did a flamenco number, then Dion emerged on an elevator from a hole at center stage to sing Eyes on Me in an outfit with a long white train, billowing behind her like a parachute. In a "fashion victim" segment, she sported a black and silver bell-bottomed Abba-style getup for Shadow of Love.
Dion's tour has been going on for a year, and was the second-best-selling show in 2008 with sales of $237 million, ranking behind another stainless steel diva, Madonna. The St. Pete Times Forum was virtually full Wednesday, with attendance of 18,550.
She was bubbling with homey stage patter, chatting about the Super Bowl, having her 81-year-old mother on the tour and how great the audience was. "I'm a talker, I can't help it," she said.
Basically, the tour is a blown-up version of Dion's Las Vegas show, which closed an almost five-year run in 2007. There are a half-dozen songs from the Taking Chances album, and a healthy selection of the greatest hits, all sounding the same after a while. She did some oddball covers, like James Brown's It's a Man's Man's Man's World, Aretha Franklin's Respect and Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep, Mountain High. Soulful, Dion is not.
Naturally, the finale included clips from Titanic, with candelabra descending from the lighting rig, the tune of an Irish pennywhistle and the inevitable My Heart Will Go On.