Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2014

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Columnist John Katsilometes: Herald the return of the Wayne-ster

A funny thing happened to Wayne Newton over the past few years as he traipsed across the country, wowing audiences in outposts like Branson, Mo. and West Fargo, N.D.

He lost hold of his town.

While Newton packed showrooms at tribal casinos and tossed in the occasional remote performance at the War Memorial Auditorium in Trenton, N.J., his Las Vegas home became a haven for all sorts of non-Wayne flavored headliners. Production shows like "O" and "Mystere" were joined by emerging Las Vegas super celebs like Danny Gans and David Cassidy, along with the indestructible Siegfried and Roy.

Meanwhile, Newton became embroiled in a sticky lawsuit with former buddy Tony Orlando over a financial dispute at Newton's theater in Branson (the suit is due to be heard in federal court in Kansas City, Mo., a year from now). As for his Las Vegas presence, Newton made only infrequent appearances at the MGM Grand's Hollywood Theatre in a rotating schedule that also featured Tom Jones, Rodney Dangerfield, Penn & Teller and Carrot Top.

For Newton and his unfailingly devoted "Wayne-iacs," this would not do. So Wayne is back, teeth sparkling and hair coiffed in his trademark Jack Lord pompadour, with an eye-popping contract -- $25 million a year for 10 years to grace a 920-seat showroom bearing his name at the Stardust hotel-casino.

Lunar capsules haven't made such a splashy re-entry.

"I knew it was time to come home for an extended stay when the guard at my Shenendoah ranch asked for my ID," Newton told a gathering of reporters and devotees at a celebratory news conference at the Stardust last week.

Having performed at several famous Las Vegas casinos since age 16, Newton will again be an omnipresent fixture on the Strip, performing for 40 weeks per year, six nights per week at a ticket price of $44.95. Doomed for cancellation on Dec. 27 is "Enter the Night." Newton and his 23-piece orchestra take over on Jan. 24.

"If you know anything about Wayne Newton, it is that Wayne Newton will never do the same show twice," said Newton, a master of the third-person superstar reference long before Bob Dole made it fashionable. "Let's face it, the wonderful thing about the Wayne Newton Theatre is that it's practically the only nightclub left in town."

True, but the Stardust is a far less grand resort than the MGM. The MGM is Emerald City and a lavish theme park; the Stardust is faded paint, tattered carpeting and $1 hot dogs.

That's fine with Newton.

"(The MGM) had so many more things that they were doing that were more important than the room I was playing," Newton said. "When this offer from the Stardust reached us, their attitude was, 'We want you, and we want you in place of building a new high rise.' "

At 57, Newton says he feels a tinge of nostalgia upon his return to a full Las Vegas schedule.

"I like the old days when the performers were the big thing in the casinos," Newton said. "Nothing against the big megaresorts, but when I'd perform there I was just one part of what was going on. I would work for months and never see one boss. Sometimes I didn't even know what the boss looked like."

That's no longer a problem. From now on, Newton's boss is the guy in the mirror.

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