LAS VEGAS, Nev. - A jubilant Shania Twain, her face beaming as brightly as the eye-catching golden jewelry draped around her neck and wrist, was breathlessly running down the spectacular elements of her Caesars Palace show that debuts Saturday night — Her first-ever onstage duet with her sister! A 13-piece band! Two live horses! — when she caught herself and momentarily stopped.
Twain, normally so studiously understated about her imposing achievements, had veered into territory as unfamiliar as the bone-dry Nevada desert.
Surrounded by her collaborators — show director Raj Kapoor and costume designer Marc Bouwer — it seemed like Twain was, for a minute, acting pretty uncharacteristically.
"We sound like we're bragging!" said Twain, tilting her head back in trilling laughter.
"There's a lot of humility in this group, everybody who's worked together. We're just speaking from genuine pride and deep sincerity."
And that pride was, apparently, extremely well-earned for the Queen of Country, speaking as she was on the eve of her first public show in nearly eight-and-a-half years.
The excitement in Sin City is palpable as Twain prepares to take the stage at Caesars' dazzling, 4,298-seat Colosseum for a sold-out show that has been the subject for fervid fan anticipation for almost two years.
And Twain has, fittingly, been single-mindedly possessed by her return to the stage.
She devised the show's theme and storyline, bringing her "wildest dreams" to the table only to delight in seeing them become reality. She's credited with producing the show from top to bottom — including lighting, costumes and the set list. And she's been ensconced in 'round-the-clock rehearsals, perhaps more gruelling than usual given her need to shed any lingering rust that accumulated over her lengthy layoff from live performing.
At one point during the spirited press gathering, a questioner wanted to know whether her Las Vegas show was the first thing that Twain thought of as she roused from bed each morning.
Actually, the 47-year-old corrected, "it goes through my mind all through the night."
"It doesn't start when I wake up," she said, again laughing. "There seems to be a great deal of detail that never stops going through my head."
Testifying to this, Bouwer said: "It's funny to get those emails late at night and you're like: 'Oh my God, she's actually up? Wow.'"
"'Go to bed Shania!'" interjected Twain herself.
So consumed is the Timmins, Ont., superstar that she says she's only been outside about once every seven days since preparations began — and even then, it's only at the behest of her husband, Frederic Thiebaud, who thinks Twain should "see the sun."
Well, Twain sure lit up at the mention of her Swiss beau, whom she married in 2011.
"Oh, he's a daily support," said Twain, looking glamorous in a beige sleeveless sweater with a scarf draped around the back, pale gold jeans and black leather Jimmy Choo motorcycle boots.
"I can't live without him. I need that support. I need him, and I just need what we have.
"And it grounds me every day and reminds me that there are a lot more important things going on in the world than what I do."
Upon arriving in Las Vegas, it's clear that Twain is the season's splashiest new attraction in a city bursting with them.
On the Strip, multiple billboards beckoning your attention feature Twain, nuzzling a horse. Inside the opulent Caesars Palace, an array of Twain's iconic costumes from videos including "That Don't Impress Me Much" and "From This Moment On" sit in glass display cases, the site of many impromptu photo shoots for visiting fans throughout the day. A nearby gift shop sells every Twain bauble imaginable, from bowler hats (a reference to her memorable "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" video) to wine glasses to Twain-branded key chains with beer openers attached.
Those videos, Twain said, will figure heavily into "Still the One." More than anything else, the show will tell her story. She says the production represents the most "personal journey" of her music career, and while she was reluctant to give up too many details Friday, it's likely the show will trace her famously hardscrabble roots in northern Ontario, where she was forced to provide for her siblings after the death of her mother and step-father in a car accident.
"It's pretty real," Twain said of the show. "A lot of it is probably more real than it probably should be."
To that end, Twain said Friday it was important that "Still the One" be a family production — which is part of the reason she twisted the arm of her sister, Carrie, to join her onstage.
"My poor little baby sister," said a laughing Twain, a jovial presence throughout the session. "She's a doll. And she has not been on the stage since she was eight years old. And she never wanted to be a part of professional performing or singing.
"She sounds identical to me, so if there are any bad notes, it's her."
Kidding aside, this collaboration clearly carries some meaning for Twain.
"It's really bonding for us. We've always been very close but this is now a moment we are cherishing. We just wish our mother could see it. But we are happily emotional about it."
Well, such complex emotions will likely run through the entire production. Twain says her hits form the "spine" of the show, and almost all of those memorable chart-climbing ditties — including "Still the One" and "Any Man of Mine" — were co-written and produced by Twain's former collaborator and husband, Robert (Mutt) Lange. Their marriage disintegrated in 2008 after Lange reportedly began a relationship with Twain's best friend.
So it might be reasonable to expect that Twain would approach her old material with a certain weariness, but she said she enjoyed revisiting songs she otherwise hadn't listened to much in years. And a pair of preview performances soothed her nerves about getting back onstage after such a long time away.
"I'm actually pretty good," she said. "What really makes me nervous are the critics. The fans are who I'm up there for … they're there for the same reason that I'm there: we love the music and we love the entertainment, and so I feel like there's a really positive exchange there.
"And critics just make me nervous. What can I say? That's the nerve-wracking part of it."
But she hardly belied any butterflies on this day. Practically every answer was punctuated with a full-throated laugh, and any tension in Twain's face seemed to dissolve as she started discussing the show.
And the five-time Grammy winner, who has sold more than 75 million albums worldwide, seems to have found peace by giving herself a bit of a break.
"It's a matter of pacing myself again," she said. "I'm not Britney Spears. I'm not a dancer. I'm not Michael Jackson. I can't spin and turn and flip and then sing. It's just not who I am.
"So that's been interesting. But I think I've got it. And if I'm out of breath, I'm out of breath."
Twain has said in the past that her messy split from Lange left her so devastated she was temporarily unable to sing.
She's been taking extra precautions in the arid Las Vegas weather — steam showers, throat sprays recommended by Bette Midler — but she says it's not that different from the dry atmosphere she experienced growing up in northern Ontario, where she started singing at age 8.
And her long recovery, documented in part in both a memoir and a reality TV series, hasn't been easy, but it's been a success. Twain says she's once again found her voice.
"I am very happy, finally," she said. "I've had to work very hard at that. But it's been a rehabilitation. And luckily, there's nothing that was ever wrong with my vocal cords, which is great...
"I'm having a lot of fun being able to be loud if I want to be loud. I don't have to be overly cautious, is what I'm saying. So that's a relief. And it's just fun to sing again. I'm enjoying it."