Shania Mania Hits the Road! (1998)

Originally published in the June 23, 1998 issue of Country Weekly magazine, featuring Shania on the cover.

Shania Twain stands triumphantly at center stage, arms raised in victory, fists pumping.

"I feel great!" she yells amid the roar of her adoring fans. "I've been waiting so long for this day and now it's finally here! I feel pumped!"

The Canadian superstar is kicking off her first tour since she burst on to the country charts three years ago. Explosions, fireworks, giant video screens, costume changes, and even a dazzling magic trick offer a visual spectacle as Shania fever sweeps through the crowd in Sudbury, Ontario.

"Are you ready? We're just getting started. I've got a lot of energy to burn!"

Shania exclaims before igniting the audience with a spirited rendition of "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" It's just one of the 23 songs she plucks from her multi-million-selling albums The Woman in Me and Come On Over for the long-awaited show.

"I've been involved in every aspect of the production," she tells COUNTRY WEEKLY with a hint of pride. "We're offering the best in lighting and sound, but the music will always be first.

"We've been arranging some of the songs so they'll fit better into a live setting. They're slightly different arrangements but everybody will know the songs. We actually had to cut the show down from two-and-a-half hours to two hours. We wanted to get people home before midnight.

"There won't be too many lulls. We've designed it so that everything flows. We're packing a lot of energy into the show."

And money, too. "I keep signing big checks week after week," she laughs. "I'm not even sure how much it costs."

It's been proclaimed Shania Twain Day in Sudbury, and it's just that for the 5,000 fans getting a first look at the brilliant production Shania will be taking on the road for the next two years.

"We drove over five hours from Ottawa and it was well worth the trip," bubbles Dave Hetherington. "She's awesome!"

Well-wisher Cathy Leger brings a framed embroidered portrait of the star that is a 120 hour labor of love, and hopes to present it to her sometime during the evening.

"I've been a fan of hers right from the beginning," says Leger, who gives her handiwork to one of the country star's nine band members for delivery.

As the big show begins, Shania -- decked out in leather vest, gold lame tank top, skin-tight black pants and platform running shoes -- sings and struts around her huge gray metallic stage. Her husband/producer Mutt Lange, making a rare public appearance, mans the sound board, overcoming echo problems in the arena normally used for hockey games. 

Four gigantic video screens project the action. Five rows of computerized spotlights and three huge searchlights -- more common at movie premieres than a concert setting -- light up the stage. Massive stacks of more than 60 speakers are suspended from the ceiling,  providing a powerful wallop for Shania's words.

Shania ends the memorable "(If You're Not in It for Love) I'm Outta Here!", by standing on a giant snare drum. There's an explosion, a puff of smoke, and then the singer disappears. Moments later she reappears in the audience standing atop a platform held up by six security guards. The crowd goes wild, their arms reaching out to touch her.

"It's a relief," Shania says later. "You never really know how the public's going to take you. Do they really want to see me? I hope they're not sick of me."

In city after sold-out city of her historic tour, Shania will be making the most of local talent.

"I'm augmenting it with a lot of local stuff," she explains. "There's a local choir, a local drummer, and we're bringing somebody out onstage every night to sing. It's a very interactive show. I want to involve all the local communities."

Sudbury resident Suzanne Nault is certainly involved at the first concert. Her prize for winning a karoake contest sponsored by a local roadhouse: a pair of front-row tickets and a chance to sing "What Made You Say That" onstage, with Shania.

The crowd laps it up.

"It takes a lot of guts to come up here and do that," Shania says as she embraces Suzanne. "It's a nerve-wracking experience."

Shania's striking gold in the nickel-mining town of Sudbury, but she had hoped to  kick off the tour in her hometown of Timmins. "I was very disappointed to find that they had already booked the venue way in advance," she explains.

"Then I thought about doing it outdoors, but they just didn't have the facilities. It was impossible."

However, she emphasizes that Sudbury was no second-hand substitute.

"I lived here for five years and went to school here," says Shania. "So there are a lot of good memories. Plus, it isn't too far for everyone in Timmins to travel."

In fact, more than 800 hometown supporters made the three-and-a-half hour trek. Family, friends and familiar faces dot the audience. At one point between songs, Shania recognizes an old school pal. she waves and yells "How are you? Thanks for the letters!"

There's another homey touch, as Shania sings a soulful version of "God Bless the Child," backed by the angelic voices of a local high-school choir.

Shania sits cross-legged onstage to croon a tasteful medley of "Home Ain't Where His Heart Is (Anymore)," "The Woman in Me" and "I Won't Leave You Lonely" that leaves the crowd in a state of mush.

Shania's personal touch extends to her hand-picked opening act, the high-energy, nine-member brother and sister act from Lakefield, Ontario, called Leahy. Their fiddling, Irish stepdancing and Celtic music fascinates Shania.

"I chose them because I wanted something really exciting to warm up the crowd," she says. The band also joins her onstage to re-enact the dancing sequence in the video for "Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)."

"It's funny how things worked out, because the video choreography in 'Don't Be Stupid' seems to complement what they do, and that wasn't planned at all," Shania says.

Something Shania did plan is to maintain fitness. Now that she's on the road, she'll be sticking to a strict routine.

"Eat, sleep and rest are going to be the priorities," says Shania. "I'm very fit, and I've been very specific about my diet. I've hired a tour assistant who will cook for me, and everything will be healthy. Everything is designed for me to tour very comfortably so I can give 100 percent when I'm onstage every night.

"If anything, this tour should be easier because I don't have to worry about setting up lights, pushing around an amp or driving around in a cube van," she says, recalling the struggling days of touring Ontario, fronting various rock and country bands.

As a rule, Shania will keep a fixed schedule to preserve her stamina. "I'm going to be very selfish with my time," vows the singer, who is taking her horse along with her on tour. "My mornings are going to be free so I can walk my dog Tim and go riding. 

"If I feel I need to exercise or need to stretch out, I'll do that in the morning. Then in the afternoon I'll show up at sound check and start my day.  All my meet and greets are before the show. Health is the priority on this tour."

After sweating it out for two hours night in and night out, Shania has only one destination in mind: her custom-designed tour bus and eight hours of comfortable, undisturbed sleep.

"To be honest, I'm going to be pretty exhausted," she admits. "I'm going to soak in a hot bath and then go to bed. I'm not one of those people who stays up til 4:00 in the morning eating pizza and drinking beer."

As for the daily menu, Shania says the emphasis is going to be on fresh foods. "There won't be any restaurants, or anything from cans or packages for me," she says. "I love pasta, but I can't eat it all the time. Fresh is the key word: a lot of fresh juices, vegetables and proteins."

To ensure peace and quiet on the bus, Shania says, "There's also a separate door if management needs to come in and make some phone calls or whatever for business. But there's a private area in my bus that's only for me. I need that privacy." 

Husband Mutt won't be at every concert. "That's not unusual," she says. "We've spent a lot of time apart. But things are going to be paced a little differently. When I take breaks they're going to be ten day breaks, so we'll be able to spend more than a week together, which is a luxury.

"Even when I have a few days off now and again, they're not really days off because you're always doing something. There's business details to attend to, things that need your attention, so you don't really have time off. This time, there will be no interruptions."

For now, she's just concentrating on life on the road. After months of rehearsals, where Shania ran through the show up to four times in a 10-hour day, she feels that her audience will finally get to see the real her.

"I am finally in my element. Everything came together exactly the way I planned, and it's every bit as wonderful as I imagined it to be.

"It's a big relief."

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