WAYNE NEWTON - UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
By Marla Santos
Photography - Erik Kabik
How many chances do you get to see one of the greatest Vegas icons?
Honestly, this is not a typical high energy Vegas show—so go see something else, if that’s what you prefer. But if you appreciate a night of classic Vegas history and enjoy listening to a rockin’ four-piece band accompanying the incredible talent of Wayne Newton, (who plays guitar, trumpet, and my favorite, the fiddle)—then you have to experience this once, or maybe twice, since no two shows are the same.
There are few entertainers who measure up to Newton’s spectacular musical journey. At his new “Up Close and Personal” show at Bally’s, Newton enters the theater from the back of the room singing, “Viva Las Vegas”, as he walks to the stage. His voice isn’t as strong as it used to be, from years of bronchial asthma and his age, but the audience doesn’t seem to care. They were there to see an icon up close. Videos of Newton with fellow legends, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Gleason, and Lucile Ball, brought fans back in time, playing priceless moments of Vegas history.
Nicknamed the “Midnight Idol” during the years where he was the highest paid performer in Las Vegas, Newton later graduated into the legendary titles of “Mr. Entertainment” and “Mr. Las Vegas,” and those aren’t easy titles to earn. Yes, there was Liberace and the Rat Pack, but Wayne Newton has spent almost his entire life in Vegas, making him one of the Strip’s most successful entertainers, performing more than 30,000 shows over 40 years in this city. When you say: “Mr. Las Vegas,” you immediately know that it’s Wayne Newton.
I remember first seeing Newton back in 1970. We had been given front row tickets, and to tell the truth, I wasn’t thrilled. I wasn’t into the chubby-faced boy who sang “Danke Schoen” at all. But Newton had grown into a very tall and handsome entertainer, and as he continually introduced different instruments that he masterfully played in the show, my appreciation skyrocketed, and by the end of the evening, I was giving him a standing ovation! The whole room was giving him a standing O, and he had earned it!
“Up Close and Personal” was totally intimate, and very different from the other times I had seen him perform. (Yes, I did purchase tickets to see him again over the years.) With this show, it was almost as if he were sitting in our living room and reminiscing about “the old days,” sharing stories—some that I had heard over the years and some that I hadn’t. I knew that he had sung, “Danke Schoen”, but I didn’t know that it was supposed to be Bobby Darin’s follow-up to his hit, “Mack the Knife”. Darin, who had become a mentor to Newton, told Capitol Records that Newton had the perfect voice for the song, and unless they let Newton record it, he would never record for the label again. Finally Capitol Records relented, and Newton’s “Danke Schoen” became a big hit in 1963. Darin continued working with Newton and recorded another hit, “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” in 1965. In ‘68, Darin started traveling with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, helping him with his presidential campaign. After Kennedy’s assassination, Newton explained, Darin was so upset that he went on a rampage in a casino and got himself blacklisted from playing Las Vegas. Darin gave away most of his possessions, and spent the next year living in seclusion in a trailer in Big Sur. When he was ready to sing and work again, Newton called the CEO of Howard Hughes Corporation, asking a favor, and succeeded in getting Darin back in the graces of Vegas and back to work. Newton continues the story saying: “If you asked me what I would be doing, if it were not for Bobby Darin, I haven’t the slightest idea.”
Starting at age four, Newton decided he wanted to be an entertainer when he saw Hank Williams perform at the Grand Ole Opry, and told his mother: “That’s what I want to do.” He learned to play piano at six and did a daily radio show before going to school. By age 9 he had learned guitar, and shortly after was signed by a Las Vegas agent to play Fremont Hotel lounge in Downtown Las Vegas. Doing six shows a day, six days a week for five years, Wayne kept learning to play an additional 11 instruments, so he could give his voice a little relief from the severe asthma he suffered from.
Another interesting story that I’d never heard was how Jack Benny liked Newton so much that he wanted him to open for him at Harrah’s on Lake Tahoe. Harrah’s management said Newton could only work in the lounge, where he had been working for years. Although Newton urged Benny to not press it, Benny told Harrah’s: “If I can’t have him as opener in the main showroom, you won’t have me either!” This was Newton’s jump from lounge to main room and he never went back to the lounge.
My favorite story came from the days when Newton was doing his USO tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, Eastern Europe and Vietnam. In 2000, Bob Hope and the USO had passed the torch over to Newton, after Hope turned 97 and had been doing it since the forties. Newton has taken more than 16 USO tours overseas to entertain our troops, which most of his fans knew. The story I hadn’t heard, was that he began his tour with people handing out 3x5 cards to the troops in attendance. Soldiers were to write down a phone number and message to someone back home that they loved. When Newton returned home, he hired many people to help him make calls to over 37,000 relatives of these servicemen and servicewomen fighting overseas. Some of the calls were met with disbelief, and sometimes they’d hang up only to get called again.
Imagine answering the phone to:
“Hello, this is Wayne Newton calling…”
This story spoke volumes to the kind of person Newton is and his love for our country and people.
Wayne Newton was a born showman. He has used his God-given talent, along with his exceptional work ethic and boundless stamina, to give his all to his audiences. This is why he has had the devoted following that he’s had over the years—and still to this day. In his 1989 autobiography, “Once Before I Go”, Newton talked about what he was striving to accomplish. He wanted to be, he said, “a man who dares to dream and pursue it, using my head for myself and my heart for others—to leave the world a better place than I found it. I guess that’s what I hope to do.”
Wayne Newton “Up Close and Personal” 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Windows Showroom at Bally’s 3645 Las Vegas Blvd. S. • Caesars.com/Ballys-Las-Vegas