Over a year ago I made a throwaway comment that wound up making a very real impact on my life. Having just read that, after a four year absence, Celine Dion was planning on returning to her home on the stage of the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace I said to my mother, “How much fun would it be to embrace the cheese and see Celine in Vegas?!” We both laughed and life went on.
Careful what you wish for. Last June I was celebrating my birthday with family and friends when Mom handed me an envelope embossed with the logo of her travel agent containing, you guessed it, a trip for two to Las Vegas and two tickets to Celine Dion. In March 2011.My reaction was multi-faceted. First, I was shocked she’d remembered the comment I had made four months prior. Second, I was thrilled she had indeed remembered and was excited by the idea--I'd never been to Las Vegas. Third, I was terrified. I should make it clear that I rarely travel and do not greet opportunities to get on a plane with relish and excitement. I hate to fly. Not because I worry the plane will drop from the sky but because I have control issues and I am claustrophobic. Both of these conditions are on high alert when they close the plane door. What if I need to get out? What if I can’t stand being stuck in this confined space? I have no say in where it goes or when it lands or when I will be able to get the hell off! The good part was that I had nine months to prepare myself (and stock up on the necessary medication) and I was determined to meet the challenge
Why did I want to see Celine in the first place? I have been slightly fascinated with her for 20 years. What a story. Awkward looking girl with 13 siblings from a dirt poor French-Canadian family, a set of pipes that were a gift from above, discovered at 12 by a manager so determined to make her a star that he mortgages his house to pay for her debut album and then begins dating her when she’s 19 (he was 43) and marries her seven years later. She becomes a super-star and transforms herself into a glossy blonde. (The hair is definitely a thing for me. I can spot a fellow refuse-to-accept-our-curls-or-color-natural brunette from 100 miles away and she has done a fantastic job becoming a swan.) Finally, I have to envy her unabashed earnestness. If you’ve ever seen her perform, or chat with Oprah, you know that this woman is the least snarky celebrity in the world. She’s self-effacing but seems completely sincere. That is a shock to any New Yorker’s system, but I respect it.
Clearly my trip will take two posts to tell so let’s just get to the concert (more on travel, hotel, and Vegas thoughts next week). To set the scene you should know that The Colosseum seats over 4,000 and every seat was filled. The audience was decidedly middle to older aged and yes, several infirm and/or obese people required assistance to make it to their seats. Celine came out to much cheering and shared how hard it was to say good-bye to Caesar’s several years ago so that she could focus on family, at which point we were treated to a manic montage of life behind-the-scenes of Diondom (who doesn’t love a good montage?) set to her super hit of 2008, “I Drove All Night.” Then she assured us that she was so grateful to be back at her home, here at the beautiful Caesar’s Palace. Her eyes misted over and the singing began.
How to capture a performance that veered from her greatest hits, to some Ella scatting, a James Bond theme song medley (who doesn’t love a good medley?) in which she managed to channel Eartha Kitt,Paul McCartney and Carly Simon, a rousing tribute to Michael Jackson (“Michael Jackson changed my life. He left us far too soon.”) to singing a duet of “Overjoyed” with a hologram of Stevie Wonder? Are you dizzy yet? I’m not done. There was R&B Celine singing a duet with a hologram of herself (I’m serious. People thought she was on the stage singing until the real Celine started walking down the aisle towards the fake Celine being beamed onto the stage) of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” (aka the theme to the 1982 film Best Friends and, if you were watching General Hospital in the 80's, Holly and Robert Scorpio’s special song), a contemplative moment when the former ugly duckling songstress sat at the edge of the stage with her guitar player soulfully singing Janis Ian’s hit, “17,” (Hmmn, I wonder if she was thinking about her own transformation?) more movie themes—“Beauty and the Beast,” “Because You Loved Me,”—and of course she ended the show with the smash hit from Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On.” It was like tuning the radio to Lite-FM and hearing Celine Dion sing every single song. And I don’t care who you are, everyone likes a little Lite-FM now and again. You know you’ve sung along to more than a few tunes while driving in your car. (And if you want to listen to them now, click on the above titles in bold and enjoy.)
Now, I should say several things. The girl can sing. Even my mother, who didn’t know from her repertoire, had to admit she was impressed. Also, for someone who just had twins she looks fantastic and I would kill for those gams. I lost count after the sixth costume change and each dress was more fabulous than the next. Who can cry and sing at the same time? Celine. Who can sing cover songs from the 80’s and 90’s and not feel like a nerd? Celine. Who can talk lovingly about her three sons and her full, beautiful life and not get a little squeamish that her husband is pushing 70? Celine.
The woman seems relentlessly sweet but somehow not completely treacly. Maybe it’s the self-deprecation? Maybe it’s the pounding on her chest during an emotive belt? Maybe it’s the jock-y way she moves while wearing an evening gown? Regardless, it didn’t take long for me to think of a Celine inspired dessert. This Tarte Au Sucre is a specialty of Ms. Dion’s native Quebec and it is literally a sugar pie. I became familiar with it when my friend’s step-daughter had to make one for a school project and I was recruited to help. Yes, it is sweet. Yes, you will want to cut very tiny slivers and serve it with UN-sweetened whipped cream. And yes, you will be hard pressed not to like it, just like Celine.
NOTE: If you are in the mood to make your own pie crust you are a better person than I am. I just couldn’t deal and decided to test Trader Joe’s all natural, refrigerated crust. Not bad at all!
Celine in Vegas Tarte au Sucre
Adapted from www.grouprecipes.com
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1 9" pie crust or tart crust, unbaked
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400F
In a saucepan, whisk together flour and sugar.
Stir in milk slowly to avoid lumps, then add butter and salt.
Over medium heat, cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. (Really, do not stop stirring or you will wind up with burnt sugar ruining your favorite pot.)
Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla extract.
Pour into the unbaked pie shell or tart pan lined with dough.
Bake at 400F for 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350F and continue baking for 25 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool in a rack. (If using tart pan, remove from pan)
Serve cooled in small wedges, with vanilla or coffee ice cream or whipped cream.
Yield: 12-16 slices