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Newton’s recounting of Beach Boys controversy a telling moment in ‘Once Before I Go’

Wayne Newton

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Wayne Newton performs as a photo of him as a young man flashes on the screen during the grand opening night of Wayne Newton’s “Once Before I Go” at the Tropicana in Las Vegas Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009.

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Wayne Newton performs with his former "Dancing With The Stars" partner Cheryl Burke during the grand opening night of Wayne Newton's "Once Before I Go" at the Tropicana in Las Vegas Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009.

Wayne Newton's Once Before I Go: Red Carpet

Cheryl Burke and Wayne Newton at the grand opening of his Once Before I Go at the Tropicana on Oct. 28, 2009. Launch slideshow »

He wound up spinning the story from the summer of 1983, the one where he was foisted into a Fourth of July battle of genres with The Beach Boys on the lawn of the National Mall.

Good. I’m glad he put that out there. We need more of that in “Once Before I Go,” Wayne Newton’s autobiographical stage show at Tiffany Theater at Tropicana. In Wednesday’s gala premiere of the show, Newton uncorked an old story that marked one of the more difficult moments of his career. It was from the summer of 1983 when Newton, at the height of his Vegas popularity, was unwittingly pitted against The Beach Boys in a clumsy bit of rescheduling for the annual, free July 4 concert in D.C.

For those who don’t remember, the show was scarred by a very strange controversy that was 100 percent avoidable if not for the dopey dronings and directives of then-Interior Secretary James Watt. The Beach Boys had customarily performed at the July 4 concert, which drew about a half million fans to the Mall, but for the 1983 show, Watt refused to consider any rock band (but not actually singling out The Beach Boys) because he said they would attract “the wrong element.” You know, pot smokers, premarital sex practitioners, those folks.

At the time of the comment, Watt wouldn’t have known The Beach Boys from The Hardy Boys. But to bring in a more patriotic theme, organizers turned to Newton to perform the free concert -- “The King of Las Vegas,” as he was billed, the anti-Beach Boy. By then the whole Fourth of July project was a mess, with controversy and storm clouds swirling over the burdensome performance. Newton says that just before going on, he prayed for relief from the thunderstorm that threatened to wipe out the concert. Not only did he manage to pull off the show, at one point snapping, “Those of you who are booing can leave so the rest of us can enjoy ourselves,” he weathered the storm created by Watt, who soon after was forced to resign after describing some of his advisories as “a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple.”

The Mall segment in “Once Before I Go” does not bring in Newton’s comments to those booing him from the crowd. Nor does it mention that Newton’s friend Nancy Reagan also was a big Beach Boys fan who criticized Watt’s decision to cut the band out of the annual event. But the retelling does invite a dose of anti-Newton sentiment, which the star himself says was “a down moment,” into his own show. For Newton, who tries to keep the message as uplifting as possible, it was a true departure from form.

The Fourth of July segment was actually absent from the production’s previews but finally put in place for the premiere. After Wednesday’s show, Newton said he’d long planned to use the material, but it took weeks to locate, assemble and edit the old footage. It works as a means to offset the more lively anecdotes Newton shares with the crowd. It hasn’t been all red roses for The Wayner, despite the song title. The next tale I hope he considers dusting is the time he traveled to NBC studios in Burbank, Calif., and threatened to knock Johnny Carson on his ass for telling Newton jokes in his monologue. It’s a great story I hope makes it to the stage. We can always hope, right?

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Zowie Bowie's Marley Taylor and Chris Phillips at the grand opening of Wayne Newton's Once Before I Go at the Tropicana on Oct. 28, 2009.

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Cheryl Burke at the grand opening of Wayne Newton's Once Before I Go at the Tropicana on Oct. 28, 2009.

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Wink Martindale at the grand opening of Wayne Newton's Once Before I Go at the Tropicana on Oct. 28, 2009.

More from the Trop

Two post-show meetings worth noting: Louis Prima Jr. talking and posing with The Wayner, who clearly enjoyed talking with the son of Vegas lounge legend Louis Prima. The younger Prima is working on an autobiographical tribute to his father in L.A., and one day hopefully we’ll see that here. Also, the great Las Vegas artist (and native Las Vegan) Jerry Misko finally got to meet Newton. Misko’s work centers on vintage Vegas, particularly the city’s great neon effects, and he has a deep appreciation for Newton’s legacy. But he’d never met Newton until Wednesday, when the two posed for a blurry/artsy, long overdue photo. … Cheryl Burke, Wayner’s partner from “Dancing With the Stars,” who appeared onstage unexpectedly (well, Newton expected it) in a dance sequence, partied until about 3 a.m. at Cathouse at the Luxor after the show. It’s funny that Newton used a fake pencil-thin mustache in that segment, looking like a caricature of his former self. … Zowie Bowie was in tan form, as always. Give Marley Taylor a hug, she loves it. … The “Peepshow” posse, led by Holly Madison and Josh Strickland, watched the performance, and Madison now is attempting to get her hands on the vintage Vegas montage poster outside Newton’s dressing room. Good luck with that. I don’t believe any others exist. … Madison also took part in a photo shoot Thursday with Robert “Bubbles” Ubriaco at Rao’s at Caesars Palace, which has nothing to do with the Newton show but would also make a great poster. … Wink Martindale was in attendance, which might seem a little curious except that the first time Newton heard “Danke Schoen” on the radio, it was on Martindale’s show on KFWB in L.A. … I spent some quality time before the show with my dear friend Kate Bennett (who, Kate-tastically, was the first and best gossip columnist at the L.V. Sun), who is now editor in chief of Vegas magazine. The upcoming issue features a profile of Andre Agassi, written by the Katester. … Wayner has the latest take on the Viagra joke, for which I’ve now heard three punch lines after the “call your doctor if the condition lasts more than four hours” line. Robert Schimmel’s punch line: “Call a doctor? I’m calling a hooker!” Steve Lawrence’s punch line: “Call a doctor? I’m calling the McGuire Sisters!” Wayner’s punch line: “Call a doctor? I’m calling the newspaper!” It’s so hard to pick a winner here.

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