“Celine Dion: A New Day. . .” abounds with acrobats floating, exotic costumes, a mixture of the earthly and the metaphysical — and all of it plays second fiddle to the armor-lunged Dion, who delivers songs in two sizes: big and bigger. Veteran Cirque du Soleil director Franco Dragone could not have found a better front person for his theatrics — her music hits the audience like an avalanche, leaving little room for musical or theatrical nuance. It allows him to provide the tasty morsels in this production, which he does, though nearly all of them have been seen before in Cirque productions.
“A New Day” gets excessive in places — what Cirque presentation doesn’t? — but it certainly raises the bar for concert acts comfortable charging triple-digit prices and offering nothing beyond a singer and a band.
However, media suggestions that this extravaganza will change the types of shows on the Vegas Strip or even Broadway amount to grand overstatement: If anything, “New Day” amplifies how much a performer known for one particular style (in this case, power ballads) can become much more compelling for auds by employing over-the-top theatrics. A key reason Dion works in this setting is that she brings so little baggage; she is a voice and a pliable personality. Even when she sings the song that appears in the current Chrysler commercial, the taint of having sold out that affects some artists (Eric Clapton, Phil Collins) just isn’t there.
The show inaugurates the $95 million Colosseum, which seats 4,100 people in a tiered theater looking at a vast thrust stage. Although there are moments when her singing is upstaged by the theater, Dion’s vocals seemingly never waver. They are bold, though sometimes electronically altered with goopy reverb, and when the audience expects her to hit a note, she does.
The music, though, is another story. The amplified instruments sound wholly unnatural beyond the occasional flute or violin passage; the sound is clear, even the synthesized string sections, but they have no “live” textures. It often sounds recorded.
During the show, Dion is surrounded by a stream of images that consistently work, thanks to Michel Crete, the set designer and image creator, and Dirk Decloedt, the projection content designer.
There’s Times Square, the ocean, a forest (with a most-impressive tree in the foreground) and Naples. It only gets out of hand when the designers try to do too much. The most egregious example comes during “My Heart Will Go On,” in which thebackdrop of a rotating moon with a meteor shower sits behind two parallel scrims of seating boxes at an opera house. It’s just plain goofy.
There are 23 songs in “A New Day,” and nearly every one is either a broad anthem or a ballad. Only about half the tunes are ones she’s known for. (Song choices will probably change several times during the show’s planned three-year run).
As a stage production, it is at its most inventive early on. Dion uses the early going to make an attempt at intimacy with the audience and, to some degree, with the material, starting (oddly enough) with the most subdued performance of the night, a solo piano-backed controlled of Eden Ahbez’s classic “Nature Boy.”
Toward the conclusion, though, the hits spill out, accompanied more often by pleasant, old-fashioned choreography than elaborate aerial sequences. With an ace collection of male dancers, she turns Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” into a song-and-dance routine straight out of “West Side Story”; moved to a slot earlier in the program, it would work as a nice buildup to the more elaborate Cirque-inspired pieces. (Two Cirque-like characters — a diminutive and cheery man in a bellhop’s uniform and a lovelorn man in all white — are in nearly every production number.)
Instead, it’s on the back end where “A New Day” not only cools off but runs out of steam. Dion attempts to wrap the presentation in a pretty bow with a meandering speech about children and an understated perf of the Louis Armstrong standard “What a Wonderful World,” but it’s as flat a closing as you’ll see at any concert. She might as well hold up a sign that says “I’m finished. Go home.”
It’s conceivable that future audiences will have more rapport with Dion and her music than opening night’s high rollers and invited guests. Dion never looked like she was struggling, but if she didn’t ask for audience participation, she wasn’t going to get any anyway.
Her run through a nostalgic trio — Etta James’ first hit, “At Last,” Peggy Lee’s version of “Fever” and the Frank Sinatra-phrased “I’ve Got the World on a String” — magnified her lack of soulfulness, but they did display her capacity for mimicry: She phrases everything exactly as her predecessors did.
For “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” it appeared Dion and her musical director Claude (Mego) Lemay had the softness of Roberta Flack’s original in mind. But they then go out on a bizarre limb, progressively bloating the arrangement and her vocal interpretation. Worse yet, Dion ascends 70 feet into the heavens with dancers all around her. Nice effect, but another song would be more appropriate for it.
Similarly, Dion is neither an opera singer nor fluent in Italian, and her attempt at a work by Donizetti is the evening’s clunker.
But during a Dion costume change — and thankfully there are only a few — one of the finest sequences of the show is staged. A bride, whose gown has an enormous train, floats midair toward a series of jesters in gilded frames heading her way from the opposite direction. On the ground, an assortment of masked dancers, all in white, scurry about the stage on their knees. With a midtempo, neo-classical instrumental, the bit is pure eye candy that echoes the joy and romantic perseverance of the bulk of Dion’s material.
That material, while not attracting the blockbuster numbers of the “Titanic” soundtrack or her “Falling Into You,” still has a hearty following. Her 2002 album “A New Day Will Come” has sold 3 million copies, making it the biggest seller of last year not to be nominated for a Grammy. Tuesday’s opening was actually part of a Dion barrage: CBS aired an all-Celine special that included live “A New Day” footage; Epic released her new disc, “One Heart”; and a Celine fragrance became available at perfume stands. Experts are tracking “One Heart” to sell more than 500,000 copies in its first week.
The show, though, is already a hit. “A New Day’s” five performances a week are sold out, except for single tickets, through July. On Wednesday, tickets went on sale for perfs in August and September.