After her last decade in the Las Vegas heat, Celine Dion was ready for a change of scenery — the French-Canadian diva admitted it herself. Once Dion took the stage at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday, midway through her year-long, 120-date “Courage” tour, she gestured to her new surroundings, addressing 19,000 screaming fans (a mostly female group, some of whom came dressed for the occasion decked out in sparkling gowns).
“You’re looking just fabulous,” said Dion, decked out in a shimmering red couture dress. She confessed that performing for New Yorkers was something she hadn’t done in too long. “It’s been more than 10 years since we were last here,” she said. “Maybe it’s because they locked me up in the Nevada desert all that time. It doesn’t matter, because, you know what? I escaped! And finally, I made it here to the great state of New York.”
Indeed, judging from the latest, Celine-sized ballads on her “Courage” tour, leaving Las Vegas has done Dion some good. While she spent 16 years at Caesar’s Palace — performing a whopping 1,141 shows to nearly 5 million people — there were restrictions to what she could do. For one, all the different iterations of her Vegas act ran at a brisk 90 minutes, so that cash-wielding tourists weren’t kept away from the casinos. And while Dion never once phoned in a performance, she didn’t look nearly as energized the last time I saw her in Vegas — months before she closed her residency in June 2019 — as she did in front of her Brooklyn friends.
At about two hours, “Courage” gives fans exactly what they want: more Celine, as joyously over-the-top and vocally flawless as ever. Yes, there are costume changes, including a white tuxedo blouse with droopy arms that look like wings and a chiffon art-deco gown for her show-stopping rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” (from “Titanic,” duh). And between each section of the show, there are pre-taped onscreen montages that pay tribute to Dion’s well-documented love for fashion, where she portrays the muse (and in one scene a ballerina) in frocks that would make even Anna Wintour take notice.
But enough about the clothes. “Courage” is about Dion’s voice, and at 51, she’s still one of the best in the business. It’s hard to overstate just how pitch-perfect Dion’s singing is, but here’s just one example. When she belts out her 1993 ballad “The Power of Love,” the high notes are as crisp and goosebump-inducing as they are on the nearly 30-year-old studio recording.
Dion opened with “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” a favorite of adult contemporary radio that has been reclaimed by gay clubs and drag queens in its 23-year gestation. And unlike fussy artists who refuse to revisit their greatest hits, Dion gamely slayed all of them, from “Beauty in the Beast” and “Love Can Move Mountains” to “Because You Loved Me” and “To Love You More” (for which she was accompanied by a violinist she introduced as “Felipe”). Sprinkled throughout the set, she also sings a handful of new songs from her latest record. Even if the lyrics aren’t as well-known, she performs them with such vitality, it’s hard to resist.
The only stretch of “Courage” that doesn’t exactly cohere is toward the end, when Dion emerges in a sequined disco jumpsuit to tackle a few covers. Some choices, such as David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade” (in French), are fun enough, but her take of Prince’s “Kiss” feels like a cold leftover from her Vegas act. That said, hearing Dion in concert makes it hard to believe that she’s never been asked to headline the Super Bowl halftime show.
If she ever does, there’s one song that she’s guaranteed to make even the most hardcore football fan tear up. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, only the most cold-hearted cynic can escape the pull of her “Titanic” song. After an encore, Dion reclaimed the stage. In Vegas, she sang “My Heart Will Go On” aboard a giant model ship. This time, fortunately, she took a slightly more understated approach: As her fans raised their lit-up iPhones, hundreds of small drones flew over her, blinking like fireflies.
And, finally, Dion closed the night with an unexpectedly gorgeous cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” And when it comes to Celine, there’s no need to imagine anything: After all these years as a powerhouse diva, she’s still managing to top herself.