Las Vegas Sun

July 22, 2014

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From Vegas with ‘Love’

There will be Wayne Newton. There will be a room.

Inevitably, there will be a lot of love.

So it will be Sunday, when the tireless Las Vegas entertainment machine headlines the 24th Annual "Concert of Love," a benefit event for Opportunity Village, at Caesars Palace.

The concert, in the hotel-casino's 1,100-seat Circus Maximus showroom, begins at 3 p.m. and lasts three hours. The show will be followed immediately by a two-hour VIP reception in the Caesars Roman Ballroom.

The "Concert of Love" has raised close to $3 million for Opportunity Village, Nevada's largest nonprofit agency that serves people with disabilities. Past concerts have attracted major names such as Engelbert Humperdinck, Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick, the Righteous Brothers, Rich Little, the Everly Brothers, Tom Jones, Ann-Margaret, and -- on several occasions -- Newton.

"I feel like I'm the perennial 'Concert of Love' performer," Newton said. "I've done it at least 10 times, maybe 12, and I've been involved in Opportunity Village almost from the inception."

Newton will have plenty of company. Also scheduled to appear are the Siegfried & Roy dancers, the Plaza's Kenny Kerr, the Luxor's Nicky Dewhurst and "Concert of Love founder" Glenn Smith, whose son was born with Down syndrome.

Although the "Concert of Love" has been an annual event in Las Vegas since the mid-'70s, Smith unveiled it in Canada.

"The first time I ever did this show wasn't in Las Vegas," said Smith, a regular entertainer in Las Vegas for more than three decades and a regular headliner for the Royal Caribbean cruise line. "Our first benefit was just after my son (Christopher, now 28) was born, and it was in Ontario, Canada."

The cast of "Godspell" lent their efforts to the first show. Included on the bill were rising stars Gilda Radner and Martin Short. The piano player was a young musician named Paul Shaffer.

"We had a wonderful cast of young talent that obviously went on to stardom," Smith said. "Through that success, Wayne helped us start up in Las Vegas in 1976 (at the Desert Inn), and when he lent his name to it a lot of other stars jumped on the bandwagon."

Said Newton: "For a guy like me, performance is fun and it's natural to perform for a charitable cause. But what Glenn has given makes what we give pale in comparison, and he's done remarkable things for this cause."

It was a young boy afflicted with Down syndrome who inspired Newton into performing again at this year's "Concert of Love." Newton, hosting a benefit for former Israeli Prime Minister Simon Peres during Peres' visit here in June 1998, was approached by the child after the performance.

"He brought up a plaque for Mr. Peres and he was so very, very cute," Newton said. "He presented the plaque and a little drawing he'd done, then he turned to me and said, 'Will you do our concert in February?'

"This was in front of a thousand people. What could I say, other than I'm always ready, willing and able."

It won't be a typical two-hour Newton performance, however. Newton will have to take the microwave oven approach, heating up the place in mere minutes.

"The last time I was this limited was when I was a supporting act to Jack Benny, and that's the truth," Newton said, laughing. "I'll have between 30 and 40 minutes. I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet, and a lot of that will depend on whatever performers will be ahead of me."

Newton has wedged more than 23 shows in eight states into the first seven weeks of his 1999 schedule. His most recent appearance was at the Miccousukee Indian Gaming Resort in Miami.

Newton recently signed a two-year contract extension with the MGM Grand and will perform there again from April 1-14. He said he has no problem performing at a rival Strip casino for Sunday's one-shot benefit.

"I have worked for one or two hotels and one or two regimes in Las Vegas, and the MGM people are the neatest as far as not getting hung up in semantics," Newton said. "I knew it would not be a direct conflict (with the MGM), that I'm connected with them, but I made sure it was OK anyway."

Newton phoned Richard Sturm, MGM's senior vice president of worldwide entertainment, and it was a go.

"He said, 'I'm surprised you're even calling me,' " Newton said. "I plan on being with the MGM for a long time and I'll be doing twice as many shows at the MGM this year as last."

When not in Las Vegas or taking to the road, Newton said he plans to perform extensively in his Talk of the T.O.W.N. Theater in Branson, Mo., beginning in May.

But Branson is just another outpost for the Las Vegas resident.

"I've always said Branson is a place for me to get off the road," he said. "If I can spend 70 dates in one place instead of traveling, I'll do it. But Las Vegas is my home and will always be my home."

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