OLIVIA was an ABC-TV variety special vehicle for Olivia Newton-John, then the reigning queen of popular music just as she was hitting new levels of fame with her major film debut in GREASE. The songs are largely in the mode of the easy listening pop Olivia became famous for in the early 1970's, a style she would soon abandon with the release later that year of her more rock-flavored music in the blockbuster album TOTALLY HOT, followed by her even bigger hits in the format with the 1980 XANADU soundtrack and 1981's PHYSICAL. Nobody could have predicted this was the last (for some time at least) of sugary sweet, gentle Olivia singing mostly soft pop music not unlike The Carpenters or earlier stars like Patti Page.
This special has a loose "childhood" theme and since the guest stars are exclusively singers (with the exception of a cameo by Gary Frank of the TV drama FAMILY) the acting largely falls to several kid actors who appear to have been directed to be deliberately amateurish in their delivery, not unlike a school play. It really does not work well but there's not that much of it so it can be overlooked. The hour is packed with music, most of it such in melody form and there's a sensational hits melody with Olivia, ABBA, and Andy Gibb that must run at least fifteen minutes that seamlessly blends their various songs together, with the other performers often singing backup as one artist sings verses from their hits. Later in the show there's a nice roundtable like format as the vocalists sing hits of the past. This will likely be the only chance you'll ever get to hear ABBA do "Help Me Rhonda" or Olivia perform "Jailhouse Rock". There's also a cute bit in this getting to know each other segment when one of the guys in ABBA asks Andy Gibb, "do you have any brothers or sisters?" Soul gossip artist James Cleveland makes an appearance in another segment as he and Olivia sing a hand-clapping spiritual accompanied by a church choir.
This program was later released on videodisc back in the 1980's and may be hard to track down today but it's worth it to for a sweet piece of 1970's pop nostalgia with one of popular music's greatest female stars at the peak of her early career.
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