Still the One for Shania

Ex-Edmontonian Raj Kapoor directs Twain's popular Las Vegas show

Edmonton Journal
By Elizabeth Withey
February 3, 2014

Shania Twain poses with Edmonton-born Raj Kapoor and his mom, Jean Kapoor, on Jean's birthday in March 2013.

A typical day in the office for Raj Kapoor can mean working with music stars like Daft Punk, Macklemore, Imagine Dragons, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Kapoor, who hails from Edmonton, has been the creative consultant for the Grammys telecast for the past three years, designing the video looks (and sometimes more) for many of the artists who perform during the prestigious awards show.

That don't impress you much?

Kapoor is also the director of Shania: Still the One, the Las Vegas show starring country music legend Shania Twain. The show happens at The Colosseum in Caesars Palace, the same venue where Celine Dion, Rod Stewart and Elton John perform. Kapoor is also working with Twain on her sold-out Calgary Stampede shows this coming summer.

Kapoor grew up listening to Any Man of Mine, You're Still the One, That Don't Impress Me Much and other hits by the iconic Canadian songstress, a multi-Grammy winner who is the top-selling female country artist of all time. He's always wanted to work with her, so he was thrilled when he found out in early 2012 that she'd chosen him to direct her comeback live show.

"I was super excited," Kapoor said from his home in Los Angeles. "Shania is the biggest show I've done so far in terms of the scale and the exposure."

The Colosseum seats up to 4,300 people and has "amazing infrastructure" for putting on shows, he explains, including a 35-metre video screen, top-of-the-line lighting, seating and acoustics, and incredible staff. "They're a combination of rock 'n' roll people and super-high-end theatrical people."

Kapoor and Twain spent about 10 months developing the show, which opened in December 2012 and will run for two full years. Shania: Still the One features all of Twain's hits and all the bells and whistles you'd associate with Vegas, including a flying motorcycle, real horses, highend video effects and stage design, and choreography. Twain had never had dancers in her shows but the Colosseum stage is enormous and "you have to fill the space," Kapoor explained. The show still feels like a rock concert and features all of Twain's original hits, he said, but it's a more theatrical, designed production. Her sister, Carrie, is singing backup in the show.

Collaborating required a huge amount of trust on Twain's part, given that she hadn't performed live for almost a decade. "She let me steer her vision and have this cohesive story," said Kapoor. Luckily, the two got along beautifully. "Shania, besides the fact she's beautiful - she looks like she has not aged - she is so warm and confident and talented. And she has this catalogue of great hits."

In terms of being back onstage performing, "she loves it," Kapoor said of Twain. "It's 'what can I do that I haven't done before'?" The singer spends two-to three-week stints in Vegas, during which time "she tries to go and see every single live show she can. She's totally entertainment-based."

When the show first opened, it was a huge moment for both the singer, 48, and her fans. "People were so happy to see her. She hadn't performed in so long, and you know when people belong on a stage. The joy (the audience) felt from Shania being onstage made her a little teary-eyed," Kapoor recounted. "This journey we went on together over the 10 months (creating the show) paid off. It was really rewarding."

The show runs until December 2014 (tickets range from $55 to $250). And even after that, Vegas may not be ready to let Twain go. "The reviews are really good. It's a crowd-pleasing show. There's talk of her extending her contract because it's going so well."

Kapoor enjoys a solid working relationship with Twain, who he describes as surprisingly down-to-earth. "That's one of the most refreshing things. She's really fun. She treats people really well. There's a lot of glitz and glamour around her but when she's not Shania, she's normal. And she's a mother and a wife. Yes, she's a superstar but it's cool to see the other side."

Kapoor, 45, attended St. Mary's High School (now called J.H. Picard) and got an education degree at the University of Alberta before moving to L.A. at the age of 21. He got his start in the entertainment business as a dancer. In the early 1990s, he won NBC's Star Search and went on to share the stage with stars like Cher, Madonna and Paula Abdul.

Now he runs his own production company and works behind the scenes as a director and producer of live events. He's done lots of touring shows, including American Idol and Dancing With the Stars, and was involved in Michael Jackson's ill-fated concert run in 2009. Another regular client is Carrie Underwood.

His parents, who still make their home in Edmonton, are very supportive. "They see a lot of my work on television and they came to the Shania opening." He adds, with a laugh, "I don't know if they completely understand how I got there."