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October 23, 2017

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Preview: Producer Robert Deaton talks Tim McGraw, Faith Hill’s ‘Soul2Soul’


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Faith Hill and Tim McGraw announce their extended engagement at the Venetian on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012.

Click to enlarge photo

Robert Deaton.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at the Venetian

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw announce their extended engagement at the Venetian on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. Launch slideshow »

For the past week, country’s leading king and queen Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have been rehearsing behind closed doors for their new show “Soul2Soul” starting tonight at the Venetian’s former “Phantom -- the Las Vegas Spectacular” theater.

After months of putting the show together, it’s still being kept secret until curtain up, and then the first to see it will be a large group of wounded warriors who are being treated to a four-day holiday vacation at the resort. Tim, who works closely with veterans, insisted that they would be his first-night guests.

Tim has only spilled a little about the show. He told CMT: “The focus of this has been to be onstage the entire time together in an intimate setting and make it about us. We will do all of our duets and throw in some surprises.”

We ink-stained wretches will see Saturday’s show, so I had to ask producer Robert Deaton to give us a preview. He’s been the executive producer of the CMA Awards and ABC’s “Duets.” His simple philosophy is “do what you love, love what you do,” and it’s really working well with “Soul2Soul.”

Robert Deaton: We have been out here for the last week in rehearsals, and they are going great. We are doing a couple of new things in the show -- it’s not necessarily just Faith doing her stuff and Tim doing his stuff. In the past, when they have done “Soul2Soul,” they kind of had blocks where they separated everything out. It was like two different shows, so we really are integrating the music, and they are doing their songs together.

We think the theater is beautiful. It has been a great experience. It is going to be eye-opening, too, because when they walk into the room -- it is 1,800 seats -- it is an opportunity for them to do something that they haven’t been able to do in a long time. For them, it is such an intimate surrounding.

Robin Leach: What did they say to you about making a lavish production, but doing it in a very intimate space as compared to a giant arena? How do you marry that as the producer? What did they say to you that they wanted to achieve?

R.D.: The thing that they are always about is the music. They want the music to be represented honestly. That was the most important thing. So, first we put together the set list before we even began to start looking at set design or any of the other things. They wanted to do that first. The other thing that they wanted to do was, since they are in an intimate venue, we want the audience to feel like they are really spending time with Tim and Faith.

When they walk out of there, they know a little bit more about them. Not just that it was an intimate, beautiful performance, but they can say they really got to spend 90 minutes with Tim and Faith.

R.L.: So is there a block of time where they will talk and ad lib with the audience to reveal their secrets, their love, their intimacy?

Tim McGraw at The Joint

Tim McGraw performs at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on June 7, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

R.D.: There is going to be some back-and-forth with the audience and they are looking forward to that. Who knows where that part is going to go because their story is so interesting with Faith being an orphan from Mississippi. She grew up with loving parents of and met her birth mother and brother later on in life. Tim grew up not knowing that his father was Tug McGraw, the pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. That’s just a great story aspect.

Hopefully, we’ll get into some of their musical influences ,as well. Tim has been influenced by everyone from Jim Jones to Merle Haggard to the Eagles, and Faith is Tammy Wynette all the way to Aretha Franklin. That’s a broad spectrum, so we are trying to keep that section loose.

R.L.: Is the magic still spontaneous between them in the rehearsals?

R.D.: It is the first time in six years that they have performed together in the United States. The magic is always there between them. I have not worked with Tim, but I had worked with Faith at the beginning of her career. Not only is the magic still there onstage, it is there all the time. When they walk into a room, together or individually, they are the kind of superstars who really change the room when they walk into it. When you put them together, it just takes it to a whole other level. The charisma, it steals the room, they are just stars. For country music, they are our next Tammy Wynette and George Jones.

R.L.: I don’t want this to sound wrong, but can they stop loving each other? I know the sparks fly all the time, but can they keep their hands off of each other?

R.D.: It is very evident that they are definitely still in love. Even when they walk into the room for rehearsal, and when we are going through songs, it is very evident that they are both still head over heels for each other. That’s so cool because you would never know that have been married 16 years ago in October. … You can tell that they really respect and adore each other.

Faith Hill’s American Heart

R.L.: Is the audience going to get inside that a little bit?

R.D.: Most definitely the audience will feel that and enjoy their great songs, too. I think we would get run out of town if he didn’t do “Live Like You Were Dying,” and I think we would get run out of town if she didn’t do “Breathe.” So, those two songs are definitely in the set list and a lot of their duets that they have done together.

R.L.: What is the most moving duet, at the moment, even in rehearsals, that has made you wipe a tear or the musicians have felt goose bumps?

R.D.: I think probably, and also because I just love this song lyrically, I would say “It’s Your Love.” Lyrically, it is such a great song. It is such a great moment for them, and it just tells their story together. Whenever they sing that song, it is amazing that it just all of the sudden comes down between those two. The way they sing to each other, it just becomes very intimate, and it is so true to their relationship.

R.L.: Obviously, you know Las Vegas is a razzle-dazzle city with all the Cirque du Soleil spectaculars on the Strip. What is new in your show that people will go “gee” and “wow” when they leave?

Faith Hill’s Breathe

R.D.: I would like to keep that a surprise, but there is a section that is absolutely beautiful and spectacular. At the same time, though, it is in keeping with what the music is telling us. We just didn’t feel like we wanted to do “spectacular” just for that sole reason of trying to be spectacular. There had to be a musical direction that took us into that area.

The section is absolutely one of the most beautiful segments that I have ever seen, and it also works because of them. It is a visual beast -- but nobody flying in from the sky or dancing around in circus makeup. I can’t even hint at the technical, but we have a really cool visual look. It must remain a surprise until you see it, but we elected not to do what you see elsewhere on the Strip.

R.L.: How many musicians do you have? How many songs ended up making the set list?

R.D.: There are at least 10 musicians; it is a killer band all from Nashville, kind of a combination between her band and his band. It has been a pleasure to hear the band play all week. Tim and Faith felt certain songs worked better than others in that room, so the song selection was picked specifically knowing that 1,800 people were going to be sitting there.

The good thing is that you’ve got the wealth of material that they have, and we were able to pick and choose what was best in the room. At last count, it was 23 songs -- that’s a lot for a 90-minute show. We haven’t completely timed out the show yet because of the spontaneous moments with the audience participating, but it’s at least 90 minutes of songs.

They are excited about it. They are excited about the opportunity to go back in and play for 1,800 people and be able to turn up the lights and see the real faces. Being able to look at someone eye-to-eye, they are looking forward to that.

Faith summed up the Las Vegas run best: “I’m so excited. This is thrilling for us to be part of this extraordinary experience. It will be completely different to anything we’ve ever done before on our four previous tours.”

Tim and Faith play the Venetian in 36 performances over 10 selected weekends through April 27.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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