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October 22, 2014

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Newton proves he’s still a master in Stardust debut

Wayne Newton had a blue-ribbon audience with celebrities plus local movers and shakers for his opening night Monday in the newly renamed Wayne Newton Theater at the Stardust.

The media, national and local, was also well represented.

Newton, his superb orchestra under the direction of Greg Macaluso and the four singers -- Jeff Brandt, Paula Harbin, Sasha Simms (a show stopper) and Genevi Bakch -- gave the very responsive assemblage 100 minutes of the Best of Wayne Newton.

Typical for an opening night, first performance in a new permanent home with a round of last-minute arrivals, the opening orchestral overture was approximately 30 minutes late. Musically, the tension built until the standard spaceship arrival, depositing Newton, apparently appearing out of a mist, at the head of the stairs to a huge ovation.

It was down the steps and into a rousing rendition of "Declaration of Love" followed by a mid-tempo "Volare" and some extended talk, proper for such an occasion, then into a nicely selected and well-performed ballad medley.

The medley started with "Unchained Melody," and included "Where or When," "The Very Thought of You" and "Just the Way You Look Tonight." Newton sang more softly, sometimes talking the words, more of a song delineator as opposed to his usual take-no-prisoners approach.

"Endless Love" was an all-out duet with the incredible Simms. This was the first of a number of high spots, one of the strongest. Newton then went to the piano, played some blues, a little gospel, and was joined by the four singers for "Give Me Someone to Lean On."

Newton caught his breath at this point and had fun with several couples at ringside before picking up the guitar, sitting and delivering "But You Don't Know Me," a hit for Eddy Arnold and Ray Charles, followed by a Hank Williams tribute, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," our personal high spot. If this is available on a CD, I'd purchase it.

"You Don't Love Me Anymore" and "If I Could Just Hold You Again" were shared with the four singers. Brandt was brought forward for some excellent singing impressions, accurate carbons of Tom Jones, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, Archie and Edith Bunker, plus an Elvis Presley duet with Newton.

It was time for Wayne on banjo and a rollicking "Baby Face" and "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee." Next, it was the violin and "Orange Blossom Special," a virtuoso turn. Newton answered a request for "Danke Schoen," led the audience in singing "Happy Birthday" to film great Ernest Borgnine and closed with "MacArthur Park" with full special effects. It was more recited than sung but every bit as effective.

No one reads or responds to an audience better. The voice is not what it was, but a carefully culled song selection made each lyric more meaningful. It is significant to report that Tuesday and Wednesday's performances were sold out.

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