Summer Session

Sheena Easton returns to Las Vegas for a three-month stay
Sheena Easton still evokes a "Fabulous" siren image for her Euro-disco album of the same name, but spending the summer in Las Vegas reflects a more down-home commitment to her two children.
At 40, I finally became normal," says Sheena Easton, who is now 42, and thereby spent about half her normal life working in Las Vegas last year.

The Strip missed the pop tart of "Morning Train (Nine to Five)," the slinky diva from "Strut" and the Prince partner who riled Tipper Gore with a song called "Sugar Walls."

These days, Easton's summer job at the Las Vegas Hilton isn't likely to generate the fodder Scottish tabloids are looking for back in her home country.

"It's more mundane than glamorous to say, but (this) is what kind of predicates my life now: `Where can I have a normal family life and still work?'

"The one thing I have this terrible fear of is being Judy Garland and my kids growing up with this wacky sort of distorted life."

Still, some will try to snicker that the 330-seat NightClub is a comedown from the lofty heights of 1989 and its No. 2 single, "The Lover in Me."

But even that won't rile her. For one thing, the singer may switch between the club and the larger Hilton showroom, depending on demand. And the Hilton asked her to sign up for a year.

That was impossible because of commitments to promote Easton's Euro-disco album "Fabulous," which is only available in U.S. import bins.

"I actually told my manager to call up and ask, `They're gonna say no, but ask if I can just come in for summer vacation? " she says.

They said yes. Now, "I get to have my cake and eat it, too." Her two children will spend the summer in Las Vegas, but the engagement ends Labor Day weekend, just in time to get back for school in California.

Family considerations also prompted Easton to join David Cassidy in the Rio's "At the Copa" early last year. It seemed like a good idea, a semi-"book" show with a light plot tapping into the retro-swing revival, with Cassidy as a singing waiter who falls for a gangster's gal (Easton).

But the show was uneven, and attempts to rein it in sacrificed the wrong number: Easton's sterling rendition of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." Gossip columnists wrote that she and Cassidy feuded.

For the record, she and Cassidy "were neither friends nor enemies. I would see him when we were onstage." They would chat in the wings just before showtime, and when it came to his business as the producer, "I was pretty much kept out of the loop."

"Sometimes I felt sorry for him" trying to be both producer and star, she adds. "I like having checks and balances. If somebody says, `I don't like your dress,' that's just a matter of opinion. But if 14 people don't like your dress ...

"He locked into this semi-book thing and didn't really want to leave that, which wouldn't have been my choice. But it wasn't my show. I've got to give him credit. He had a real strong sense of what he wanted that show to be and stuck with it, good bad or indifferent."

But she had no desire to sign on for a second year, which never materialized anyway because the show closed.

Returning to Las Vegas just seemed more right this time. The first time, "I went through real emotional highs and lows. I hadn't made friends yet and I was away from my friends back in L.A. I felt kind of isolated because it was all about work."

Now, "I'm excited to be coming back. My kids (Jake, 6, and Skylar, 5) have really good friends here. They've kept in touch. There's two or three mothers of other kids (who) I've stayed in touch with."

And the NightClub booking will be an opportunity to redefine Sheena Easton, who spent the past few years doing everything from an album of standards ("No Strings") to voices for animated films and TV shows.

She took herself out of the race for hit singles 10 years ago.

"Life is not about whether you can you sell an album anymore. If it was, my career would be in the toilet. I haven't made a commercial album in a long time," she says.

"I look at somebody like Madonna and I say, `You go girl.' I don't know how she does it. She's my age, and she makes an up-tempo record and it doesn't sound stupid. ... If I tried to put out an album like Madonna, I couldn't take myself seriously."

But then, Easton is the first to volunteer she never had Madonna's club cachet, not with a career that began with the pop single "Morning Train (Nine to Five)" back in 1981.

Born Sheena Orr in the Glasgow suburb of Belshill, she was the youngest of six children in a small industrial town. People write of her "poor and humble beginnings," she says, but "I didn't feel I was deprived of anything because there were no class divisions. I didn't know anybody who didn't work in the factory."

Still, by age 17, her sights were set on show business and she auditioned for everything from "Annie" to "Evita" while attending the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama on a scholarship.

A talent scout for the British Broadcasting Corp. reached her through a teacher. "My career might have been different if they'd sent a man out," she notes, because the talent scout wanted Easton to come up to her hotel room and sing.

"Can you imagine if that was some 25-year-old guy? I've been around the block enough times to know what that's code for."

Instead, Easton ended up being followed around by camera crews for a documentary "The Big Time: Pop Singer," which chronicled the making of her debut album.

In 1981, "For Your Eyes Only" made her the only singer of a James Bond theme to be seen in the title credits of the movie. From there, her career yo-yoed from a middle-of-the-road duet with Kenny Rogers ("We've Got Tonight") to a steamy Prince collaboration ("U Got the Look").

By the time she was 30, "I was so burned out I almost quit completely," she says.

"Because I'd been in high-pressure markets since I was 19, by the time I was 30, I'd lived a life most people don't get until they're 40. I was already at the point where I had that cynical, `Is that all there is?' midlife-crisis sort of thing."

However, "there was enough sanity in there for me to admit to myself I need to be out there working. It's all romantic to say I'm going to go off and string beads somewhere or join the Peace Corps, but I knew that wasn't going to be right for me."

So instead she signed on for a national tour of "Man of La Mancha" with Raul Julia. That opened new doors outside the recording industry, which included the road tour of "Grease" that visited the Aladdin in August 1996.

She also made sense of a personal life that had burned through three short marriages. "I'd say, `I'm in love. I'll get married so it gets it out of the way, so I can concentrate on my career.' "

But she adopted her two children after "I reassessed my life and knew that what I wanted to do was have kids."

Now it's the family considerations that make Las Vegas an attractive option. "I would move here if I thought I could stay here for a good solid five years and put my kids through grade school here."

There is, however, one consideration beyond questions of her drawing power in the showrooms.

"I also happen to have a fiancÚ now who is in Beverly Hills," she says. "Right now it doesn't make sense for him to move. Like all relationships, they have to be negotiated."

A big smile of astonishment takes over her face. "I can't believe I'm talking like that. I have really changed, you've gotta understand. I hear myself talking sometimes and go, `Who the hell is that?' Five years ago I would have gone, `Well, he wants to be with me, he's gonna have to move!'

"Now I realize, `Would you really want to be with a guy who's like that?' "

So for now, "my challenge this summer is just to be as honest as I can. Talk (to the audience) a little bit. ... Give 'em an idea of who you sort of are and not what they read in the gossip columns. Then get up and sing your (butt) off."