Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009 | 6:53 p.m.
- Newton on his upcoming show at the Tropicana.
- Newton on discovering Hughes placed cameras in the Frontier's showroom.
- Newton describes a visit from one of Hughes' messengers.
- Wayne Newton on what Walter Kane, his booking agent, said about Howard Hughes.
Call it a 50th anniversary celebration. Call it, maybe, one more for the road.
But Wayne Newton is formally calling it “Once Before I Go,” and it is at once a concert, monologue and multimedia trip down memory lane at the Tropicana.
“I’ve long wanted to do a show that borders on an autobiographical theme,” Newton said during a phone interview this afternoon from his ranch estate Casa de Shenandoah. “I want it to be autobiographical, but not so autobiographical that it won’t be entertaining.”
The show debuts Oct. 14 and runs through next April. Performances are scheduled for five nights per week, dark Sundays and Mondays. Tickets are $149.99 for front-row “Golden Circle” seats, $99.99 and $79.99.
A news conference is scheduled for tomorrow morning at the Tropicana to formally announce Newton’s partnership with the hotel.
Newton offers that this run of performances might well be his final engagement as a Strip headliner. “The truth of the matter is I’m considering that,” he said. “All I’m agreeing to is to take this through April of next year, five shows per week. I’ve made no decisions after that.”
But Newton strives to remain a relevant artist, stressing that he doesn’t plan on the show being a retirement piece or a rote retelling of old stories.
“Not to sound terribly self-serving, but I am still relatively young and in good health, and I have seen changes in this town no one else has seen and I can still talk about them,” said the 67-year-old Vegas icon, whose performing career in Vegas dates 50 years, to May 1959, when he and his older brother, Jerry, performed as the Newton Brothers at Fremont Hotel’s Carnival Lounge. “I’ve had friends, from Howard Hughes to The Rat Pack, Elvis, Bobby Darin. I’m from that era and can talk about or pay tribute to those people, and we’re almost to the point where there is no one left who can do that.”
Newton has battled health problems the past few years that have led to cancellations of shows at Harrah’s (the holiday performances scheduled for December 2007 were wiped out by an infection in his chest that weakened his heart) and one date at MGM Grand earlier this year. But Newton says he feels fine today. “I’m feeling fantastic, and I’m singing the way I want to sing.”
For “Once Before I Go,” Newton will be backed by a full orchestra and will weave old standards “and a few surprises,” he says, into a multimedia presentation that will include a video montage of some of his favorite moments throughout his career. “I want to emphasize that this will be state-of-the-art production, some art production values that we’ve never had.” Celebrity guests also will appear onstage, in a Vegas tradition dating to the days of The Rat Pack.
“I think that’s sort of inevitable, isn’t it?” Newton said with a laugh.
Newton’s most recent long-term residency contract on the Strip was with Boyd Gaming at the Stardust. In 1999, Newton signed what was announced as a 10-year contract for $25 million annually. That run lasted far less than a decade, though. Newton and Bill Boyd agreed to end that agreement after five years, as Newton took over as chairman of the USO, the role held for decades by Bob Hope.
Newton has since appeared at the Las Vegas Hilton Theater and at MGM Grand, where he says he came to an amicable agreement with MGM Mirage Sports and Entertainment President Richard Sturm to release Newton from the remainder of his 2009 dates (he was scheduled to perform another set of shows next month). As his deal at the Tropicana began to take shape, one early player was Jack Wishna of consulting firm CPAmerica, who similarly helped initiate negotiations for Newton’s contract at the Stardust.
Newton says the talks involving Wishna began before Alex Yemenidjian took over as owner and CEO of the Tropicana in July (Scott Butera was the Trop president prior to the arrival of Yemenidjian, a highly regarded former MGM Mirage exec). Discussions then resumed among Newton, Yemenidjian and Newton’s wife, Kathleen, an attorney who manages Newton’s entertainment bookings and business holdings.
“We all had dinner about four months ago and Alex, who is a dear friend, had just bought the Tropicana, and he said, ‘Why don’t you try something new?’ ” Newton said. “I had been thinking about it for a long time, just the overall theme of this type of show.”
The show is being produced in a partnership between Newton and PRG Management of New York. He believes the sensible ticket price, nostalgic feel of the show and classic theater are an appealing combination.
“I walk around this theater, and it’s so intimate, like one of the last nightclubs,” Newton said of the old “Folies Bergere” showroom, adding, “It reminds me a lot of the Sands, actually.”
If anyone can make that call, it would be Mr. Las Vegas.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.