Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009 | 6:38 p.m.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot, if the name incorporates a whole city, and that city is Las Vegas, and the person in possession of that name is Wayne Newton.
Newton has been known for decades as “Mr. Las Vegas.” He likes the title, as it is at once formal and regionally accurate. To reinforce that identity, and to make the overt claim that he is the one and only Mr. Las Vegas, the news release announcing Newton’s new show at the Tropicana leads with “THE ONE AND ONLY “MR. LAS VEGAS,” WAYNE NEWTON, CELEBRATES 50 YEARS ON THE STRIP WITH A HISTORIC NEW SHOW, ONCE BEFORE I GO, AT TROPICANA LAS VEGAS.”
Yes, the letters are uppercase. They also are in bold. No exclamation marks, though. No emoticons.
The show’s logo also is stamped with “Mr. Las Vegas” above Newton’s name, which is actually Carson Wayne Newton when it is not Mr. Las Vegas, or the Midnight Idol, which seems to have been dropped in recent years. I just call him The Wayner, and you can, too.
However, Newton has been grumbling about losing that long-held Mr. Las Vegas affiliation because Flamingo comic George Wallace also has embraced a version of the nickname. Wallace’s billboards and signage read “The New Mr. Vegas,” which is actually a blurb pulled from a review the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Mike Weatherford once wrote about Wallace (ignored was my own blurb-worthy line “George Wallace is the governor of funny!”).
So it has become, in the minds of many, that Mr. Wallace is now Mr. Las Vegas, and Newton is something else, maybe the Retiring Mr. Las Vegas, which would actually make him Mr. Del Webb, right? But today I asked The Wayner if he believes the new production, which unwraps his long history in the city with video panels showing him with all his celebrity friends, was a way to reclaim the title.
“I think, in total candor, yes,” he said during a one-on-one interview after this morning’s formal announcement of his production at Tiffany Theater. “People come to me and say, ‘You know, I was really put out when I came to the airport. What is that about?,’ talking about (Wallace’s) signs. But the Mr. Las Vegas thing is not something I took for myself or something that a PR person came to me. It happened by virtue of my being here all the time.”
Hey, it beats Mr. Branson, right?
“When other performers would come here to do two or three weeks, or two or three months, I was doing 36 weeks a year,” Newton continued. “It all started back in the ’80s.” At that time, Newton was a Strip workhorse, filling in for headliners who could not or even would not fulfill their onstage commitments.
“For example, when (Robert) Goulet would become ill at the Desert Inn, I would fill in for him in addition to doing my own shows at the Frontier,” Newton said. “And then Jimmy Durante became ill, same thing. And Sammy (Davis Jr.) -- he walked 17 times at the Sands when he was trying to break his contract. In those days, people would be seated and served dinner, for the first show, and then he would become ill, which meant that the hotel would have to pick up the food and drinks and give back the gratuities, too. It became that I was the one who would be pulled from the Frontier to come over to the Sands.”
As Newton says, the cross-casino appearances led to his being called Mr. Las Vegas.
I reached the New Mr. Las Vegas, Wallace, today on the phone (he’s got this wild outgoing message where he goes, “Whoooo-hoooo! You know what to do!), and he says there is no issue with the nickname from his perch at the Flamingo.
“He is Mr. Las Vegas. I am the new Mr. Las Vegas,” Wallace said. “Let’s make it perfectly clear: He is the man. I want to be just like him. Everything is just great, it’s cool. We don’t need controversy to generate interest here. Even Mr. Las Vegas Jr. works for me.”
Works for us, too. Just play along, and no one gets hurt. That’s how you get to be a Mr. Las Vegas, in spirit if not in fact.
More from the Trop
One of those reminding Newton that he was approaching his 50th anniversary of his Vegas performing career was URL, Ubiquitous Robin Leach, in this blog for Vegas DeLuxe back in April. Nice reading of the calendar by Robin. … Newton walked onstage to a recorded version of “Danke Shoen” and ordered it stopped. “God I’m sick of that song,” he said, joking. I think. … New Tropicana owner Alex Yemenidjian says the dinner among he, Wayne and Kathleen Newton and Yemenidjian’s wife, Arda, to first discuss Newton’s show at the Trop was at an appropriate locale: Sinatra’s at Wynn Las Vegas. … Yemenidjian has known Newton for about 15 years and says he is taking an active role in the artistic development of the show. What has he contributed? “I can’t tell you,” Yemenidjian said, grinning. Some of Yemenidjian’s friends have compared him to Omar Sharif, understandably. Ever find yourself around someone who wastes no motion, energy or verbiage? Yemenidjian is one of those. As I was talking to him, my pen -- Circus Circus merchandise -- ran out of ink, and he promptly offered me his. ... Yemenidjian took over, officially, at the hotel on July 1. I caused confusion initially about that fact in the blog posted yesterday. Apologies to you and yours for that. … Newton said his desire to spend more time with his daughter Lauren, who is 7, will factor into his decision on whether to continue performing past the April closing date for “Once Before I Go.” He foresees extremism in vetting potential suitors for his daughter when she starts dating. “I have the Bruce Willis theory on that, which is to kill the first one and hope that word gets around.” … Newton was maddeningly vague about details for the show, saying the theater would have a new lighting, sound and video system, but not much else. There will be guests invited to perform occasionally, but he wouldn’t say who or when or how.
Good pop for “The Lion King”
The Las Vegas production of “The Lion King” at Mandalay Bay receives some invaluable exposure tonight when cast members perform on “Dancing With the Stars.” They will perform the famed “Circle of Life” on tonight’s show, airing at 8 p.m. on KXNT Channel 13. Maybe they can get Chuck Liddell to don the Scar costume …
Quick thoughts on Erich Bergen’s ouster from “Jersey Boys”: Being dismissed from a Strip production never looks good on a resume (if you were to actually list such an outcome on a resume), but if anyone can overcome this, it’s Bergen. But I keep going back to the jab, good-natured though it was, directed at Bergen from “Jersey Boys” music director Keith Thompson. It was in July, during one of the composers’ showcases at The Liberace Museum, and Thompson referred to Bergen as “the media darling.” Bergen’s perceived self-promotion and many side projects, even though they were philanthropic in nature, didn’t help his status with members of the ensemble-driven musical.
During an appearance on “The Late Show” with Craig Ferguson on Tuesday night, “CSI’s” Marg Helgenberger was telling Ferguson about shooting part of the series on-site in Vegas. Oh no, I thought, here it comes. “You ever been to Luv-It Custard?” Ferguson quickly asked. Helgenberger sidestepped the question, saying that she knew where it was, but also recalling that she once saw a sign at an adult club in Las Vegas advertising $5 lap dances. Fine. We can handle that, but get off the Luv-It Zone.