Danke schoen for the memories, Wayne Newton
Step inside the Way(ne)-Back Machine. Your guide is the guy whose nickname symbolizes this entire town.
“Every night I find myself laughing like an idiot over some of the skits Mr. Benny and I did, or Mr. Burns and I did, or Dean and I did, or Frank and I did—hahahaha!” says Wayne Newton, letting loose a booming, basso profundo guffaw. Why so formal? Let’s just call him Mr. Las Vegas. Everyone has for decades.
Those decades provide the mountain of memories at the heart of Wayne Newton: Up Close and Personal, in which the Vegas vet opts for a story-and-song format, sharing tales of old Vegas and his own career, and taking questions and song requests from the audience.
“I enjoy them more now than when I did them,” he says of vintage film clips that punctuate the evening. “So much of life is the ability to look at it in retrospect. You realize you had not a clue at the time of what something meant or would mean in the future.”
Four musicians and three backup singers aid the longtime entertainer at Bally’s intimate Windows Showroom, and 13 instruments—yes, he plays them all—are laid out for him to grab at the drop of an audience member’s desire. Or his own.
Preparing this part-planned/part-off-the-cuff production led Newton in a different direction than his last Vegas show, 2010’s Once Before I Go, as he bounced ideas off family and friends. “They said, ‘Write something that’s straight from the heart,’” Newton says. “And I thought, ‘Vegas has changed so much in the years I’ve been here, so write a show that’s a tribute to the town and the entertainers who made the town what it is.’”
Response, he says, has been gratifying. “It’s really been heartwarming, almost like being in someone’s living room,” he says. “I have to literally cut the show short every night. And we have people that come back every single night because it’s different every night.”
While name-dropping can seem pretentious, in Newton’s case it’s simply the facts. Whom hasn’t he known? Just to pluck a couple out of the hat, there’s the Bobby Darin story.
In a biography written by Darin’s son Dodd, the late singer and Vegas performer is described as spiraling into severe depression and seclusion after Robert Kennedy was assassinated 48 years ago this month. “(Dodd) goes into this dissertation about how I became kind of his stepfather,” Newton says, noting that he was asked about Darin at the show. “Sometimes the audience surprises me, the depth of the questions.”
Or the story about how, after guest-starring with Lucille Ball on The Lucy Show in 1965—playing a fictional, country-boy version of himself—there were negotiations to spin off his character into a Desilu-produced sitcom of his own. But Ball, fearing typecasting would hobble Newton’s career, convinced him to pass, citing the Gomer Pyle label that dogged Jim Nabors after that sitcom ended.
Most in-demand reminiscences? “People have great interest in the Rat Pack era,” he says. “What kind of guy was Frank Sinatra? Did Dean drink as much as was perceived?” Or the time he thought a phone call was a prank by an impressionist pal imitating Sinatra—and accidentally wound up getting impudent with the genuine Ol’ Blue Eyes. How did it end?
Sorry, no more freebies—you’ll have to step inside the Way(ne)-Back Machine.
Bally’s, 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat., starting at $75 plus tax and fee. 702.777.2782