Friday, May 2, 2003 | 9:38 a.m.
Wayne Newton is a phenomenon, a living icon -- of Las Vegas, of show business, of patriotism -- who continues to be a must-see for fans even though his singing voice has become troublesome.
The 61-year-old entertainer has had an illustrious career, and has been rewarded for his talent both monetarily and through numerous awards recognizing his kindness, generosity and love of country.
So beloved is he by his legion of fans that they don't care that he sometimes sounds as if he's doing an impression of Katharine Hepburn as he sings.
But fans continue to pack Newton's showroom and to shower him with adulation, laughing at his sometimes lame jokes, hugging him until he pries their fingers from around his neck, swooning like teenagers even though their hair is gray.
Newton's longevity prompts some intriguing questions:
Would Celine Dion fans be so forgiving if she suddenly lost her ability to sing "My Heart Will Go On" with the same intensity?
Clint Holmes is one of the finest singers in Las Vegas, but where would the fans be if his voice began to falter, to tremble and quake and sometimes fade to an almost inaudible level?
Tom Jones, Robert Goulet and a host of other singers older than Newton still have powerful voices and carry a song through to the end without sounding as if they are on a bad cell phone. But where would they be without their voices?
Probably home writing their memoirs.
He continues to maintain a busy performance schedule. When not at the Stardust's Wayne Newton Theater (where he has a contract to perform until 2010), Newton has engagements at clubs and concert halls all over the country. And he sings for troops overseas.
He probably even sings in the shower.
But Newton is immune to criticism. Who cares that he struggles with his signature song, "Danke Schoen"? No one seems to mind that Newton's vocal cords have been stretched to the limits through a lifetime of overwork.
At a recent performance the room was overflowing with people there to see the charismatic performer who sports a number of titles, such as Mr. Las Vegas, Mr. Excitement and the Midnight Idol.
They were there to have a good time and to see their idol at arm's length.
Throughout his career Newton has given his all to his fans, and they show their appreciation of his sacrifice with loyalty. (The annual Wayne Newton International Fan Club convention will be held at the Stardust from Sept. 22 to Sept. 25.)
If his voice is not what draws them into his aura, what is?
Charisma is hard to explain. Volumes have been written on the subject.
Easier to assess is a Wayne Newton performance.
Quite simply, he puts on a great show that begins and ends in spectacular fashion.
As a throbbing sound system that shakes the very foundation of the room begins to play, Newton seems to appear as a hologram on a pedestal surrounded by smoke and then walks down a few steps to a stage that suddenly begins to rise, bringing up the band amid a shower of fireworks.
The room is filled with excitement. Their idol has arrived.
He plays to his strong points -- wading into the audience during one of the opening numbers and hugging, kissing and shaking hands and patting fans on the back and giving them an opportunity to snap his picture. Newton probably spends more time shmoozing than singing.
His orchestra and backup singers are superb, giving the show the musical boost it needs while Wayne is busy being Wayne, cavorting around the room, dispensing bottles of champagne to lucky fans who catch his attention.
He croons to a young bride still wearing a wedding dress. She had only been married three hours, and everything else had been put on hold until she could see The Wayner.
"Bring them a bottle of champagne," he says.
His fans are not demanding, not overly critical. As long as they are in Wayne's world, they are happy.
No voice? So? Jokes a little too drawn out? No problem.
What matters is that Newton is entertaining them. He is Mr. Las Vegas. He plays his musical instruments with dynamic energy.
Newton is a good musician, playing piano, banjo, guitar and fiddle with alacrity. He tells a decent story. No one can be Wayne Newton better than Wayne Newton.
Perhaps he should change the focus of his show. Do what he does best. Meet and greet the fans. Play his music. Give out his champagne. Act like a party host and let others carry the heavy load of singing.
Give the cords a rest. Maybe they will return to their former splendor.