Wayne Newton enjoying a more ‘up-close’ vibe in his new show
Through all of Las Vegas’ reimaginings, Newton has remained the constant, the last throwback to the days of the showroom and tuxedoed crooner with a big band.
Two things invariably will come to mind when someone mentions Las Vegas: showgirls, and Wayne Newton.
The sequined and feather-festooned showgirls are no more in the town once referred to as Glitter Gulch and Sin City. But Newton remains, singing in the various theaters along the famous Strip, something he’s done for more than 60 years of calling this town home. He is —and will always be —“Mr. Las Vegas.”
Newton has lived through the highs and lows of this desert city, from his first gig — six shows a night, six nights a week — at the downtown Fremont Hotel in 1959 (as a duo act with his brother Jerry) when he wasn’t even old enough to be in a casino — to the darkest moment in the city’s history, the Oct. 1 shooting massacre at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in 2017.
Along the way he’s watched the city reinvent itself, from roadside hotels with casinos in the lobby, to a boulevard of massive, multibillion-dollar resorts. He’s seen the town transform into a major professional sports hub, with the arrival of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders and the Vegas Golden Knights NHL team.
And through it all, he’s remained the constant, the last throwback to the days of the showroom and tuxedoed crooner with a big band and a dinner show.
His mark on pop culture comes mostly through music, including “Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast,” “At This Moment,” “The Letter,” and the iconic “Danke Schoen.” The latter was a “gift” from Bobby Darin in 1963, who instead of recording the song himself persuaded Newton to record it as long as Darin could produce the record. The hit resulted in his first headlining gig on the Strip that same year, at the storied Flamingo Hotel.
Wayne Newton: Up Close and Personal
When: 5 p.m. Sept. 11
Where: Des Plaines Theatre, 1476 Miner St, Des Plaines
Tickets: $59- $99
“The business has changed. Audiences have changed. It happens about every 10 years or so. It’s been interesting to watch it,” Newton, 80, mused during a recent chat. “When I started in the business in 1959, the town was running on big name entertainment in addition to the gambling. The showrooms with all the long tables, the booths. It was wonderful. When Frank, Dean and Sammy were at the Sands, a show ticket was $5.95, and you got dinner, too.
“In the 1970s it was all about big magic acts, the Siegfried and Roys,” he continued. “Then 10 years or so later it shifted to big production shows. Now it’s returned to big name stars [in residencies], singers in massive theaters.
“When I started here, you could not do a TV show from Vegas because the image of the city was not what the networks wanted. Now there are movies being made here, TV shows. It’s become a town of big entertainment once again. Full circle.”
Newton has come full circle, too. He’s back at the Flamingo, headlining an intimate evening of music and memory lane at a small theater that bears his name. Watching him work the room (any size room) is a master class in entertaining. He’s been on the boards for more than 70 years and shows no signs of slowing down.
“When I was 4 years old, I went to see the Grand Ole Opry road show in Roanoke, Virginia, (he was born in Norfolk), with my family. The singers were Hank Williams, Kitty Wells. We were so far away from them that I couldn’t really see them because everybody around me was so tall. [Laughs] So I found myself listening to the music, but looking at the people seated around me, and the thing that really struck me was the smiles and happiness those singers were bringing to people.
“I told my mom that night that that was what I wanted to do for a living. The thought of one day lightening people’s loads, seeing them smile or laugh, or even tear up from hearing a song that makes them feel something so deeply, that’s what keeps me going to this day.”
While he admits he misses the days of the casino showrooms now long gone, he’s made himself quite at home at the Flamingo.
“The Sands was my favorite showroom. But I love this room I’m in now. It’s so intimate. It feels like I’m right in their living rooms. When I was writing this show (which arrives Sunday night at the Des Plaines Theatre), it was tough to write about the old days, but make sure it still appealed to younger audiences who come to see us.”
Maybe it’s not the music, but the big screen that keeps the younger crowds coming to catch his shows, most notably “Vegas Vacation.”
“I get such a kick out of it,” Newton says of the fans who still bring up the 1997 Chevy Chase movie. “When we were doing the film, I didn’t realize it was going to become the motion picture that it has. It’s ageless in terms of the people who enjoy it to this day. And I think with the pandemic [shutdown] people were watching that film a whole lot more than they might have been if the world hadn’t shut down [LAUGHS].
So was that really Dean Martin’s pasta recipe in the movie, and did Newton keep the painting that was in progress during the dinner scene with Beverly D’Angelo?
Newton lets out a hearty laugh, and answers succinctly: “Yes and yes.”