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August 18, 2019

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Sheena Easton talks musical memories, Prince and ‘42nd Street’

Sheena Easton

Sheena Easton has been performing and living in the Las Vegas area for more than a decade.

Grammy Award-winning singer and Broadway performer Sheena Easton has been such a frequent Las Vegas headliner over the years, she moved to Henderson more than a decade ago. She returns to the Suncoast Showroom for two shows this weekend (January 21 & 22, 8 p.m., $27, tickets at 702-284-7777) but that’ll be it for Vegas shows a while—Easton is off to London for a year-long stint in a revival of 42nd Street at the Theatre Royale Drury Lane.

“It’s one of those iconic Broadway productions, just a wonderful show to do,” she says. “And it’s one of the few roles out there that’s perfect for a woman of my age.” She’ll be playing the flamboyant Dorothy Brock, a seasoned and stereotypically temperamental star—a diva. “She’s one of those old-fashioned stars with boas and mink coats. Even the stage direction is written that she sweeps onto the stage, big and brash. You can’t take yourself too seriously in this role because part of the fun of the show is poking fun at her character. But she also gets these great songs and great scenes, all of it. It’s everything you’d want to do.”

We caught up with Easton—known for pop hits “Morning Train (Nine to Five) and “Strut” and Prince collaborations “Sugar Walls” and “U Got The Look”—before her next showbiz adventure begins.

What do you love about living in the Las Vegas Valley? Up until I came here I was traveling for work with my kids, then just babies. I had them on the road with me. It got to the point where it was time to pick a place to stick to and put them in school because I didn’t want to do the thing with tutors on the road. I had done Broadway a couple times previously and was debating whether to do a sit-down show like that to keep me one place, then I decided to do it in Vegas, which led to my engagement at the Hilton. Since I’ve been here I’ve made some very close friends, and my kids have close friends as they’ve spent their entire school years here.

You’re playing the Suncoast this weekend. What will this show be like? I’ve found over the years that my core fanbase comes in expecting to hear certain songs and they’re very disappointed if I don’t do them. I’m not one of those artists who says I’m not singing certain songs anymore. Your shows are for your fans. So I do the songs you would expect, and sometimes I’ll pull one out of the rotation and dig up another, work in a different version of an album cut or do an acoustic version of something that used to have a really big production to it just to change it up. I do a symphony show to where I go out and I’m doing standards, not my hits at all, but it’s kind of fun to come in and do a casino show right now because it’s geared toward the audience that knew me from the ’80s and ’90s.

You have so many hits that span different genres. “U Got The Look” is so different from “For Your Eyes Only,” for example. Are there certain songs that really resonate with you on a personal level? I think every artist goes through a phase when they hate their own hits, especially when you’re younger. You’re constantly producing new material and you just want to be out there singing those songs because that’s your new baby. It can feel like your hits are slowing you down. But as you get older you start to get this deep affection for them. Not only do they have tons of memories for you, but as you get to know your fans—and I talk to them and get lots of letters and social media even though I’m terrible at it and I don’t Twitter—you really see what a lot of the material means to them. They tell you the stories of how they’re involved with the music, and it’s amazing how it’s really part of the fabric of their memories.

I also did an album called No Strings, an album of standards and some obscure jazz stuff that the record company let me do because I insisted. I did it in the old-style of recording, a bunch of live takes and then we picked the one we liked best. It was a tribute to the music that impressed me as I was coming up. I still love that album although the general public is not really aware of it. My fans won’t forget it because I’m always talking about it! That stuff I always look back to as the one I’m really proud of. I also did a track with Prince called “101” that’s one of my favorites.

You posted a touching tribute to Prince on your website last year that really summed up how a lot of people feel about his passing, that you just can’t imagine him not being here. What was it like working so closely with one of the most influential artists of all time? I met him when we were both very young still. When you’re around him on a personal basis and get to see the Prince that’s not the persona, the concert Prince or stage Prince or interview Prince, he’s just so relaxed. And he’s always busting you, making fun of you, making you laugh. It was also fascinating to see the genius of how his mind worked and understand why he was such a big deal from the artists point of view, why he was so respected by his peers. He would put out a song and everybody would go, “Nah. What? What did he just do?” He would mix it in a way that nothing on the radio sounded like it, the chord changes and harmonies would just pop your eyes open. And the way he worked was so fluid. I’ve worked with many great and talented producers who make hit after hit and they all know exactly what they’re going to do when they go in the studio, all mapped out. Prince would go in and if an accident happened, he might say, “No, no, I like it like that. Do what you did.” Something would spark an idea and he would go off in another direction. When we did “U Got The Look,” it was a finished track, it was done, and he asked if I wanted to come down and throw some backup vocals with everybody else. Then we started playing with me doing the answering thing and it developed into a duet. I never worked with anybody before or since that did that. What kept him fresh and kept other artists admiring him so much was that willingness to just go out there, his openness.

What was it that enticed you to take this gig doing 42nd Street in London? Well I’ve had calls about going back to Broadway and I always said I’d have to be 100 percent convinced it was the right project for me to uproot my family and move to London or New York and change everyone’s lives. This came at the right time, and it’s one of the few shows and roles that I would just love to do. It’s just a wonderful show to do, a great ensemble piece. And my kids are old enough now to be looking forward to some vacations in London.

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