Wayne Newton, the king of Las Vegas, seduces audiences six nights a week. His show's a finely tuned machine that manufactures love. What makes it go?

By Tim Carvell
Updated November 21, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Wayne Newton is angry with me. He gets angry with me every night at 8:27 p.m., except Fridays, because Fridays are his night off.

Technically, he’s not so much angry with me as with a whole roomful of people. And not so much angry as disappointed. And not so much disappointed as pretending to be disappointed. But still, whatever the terminology, he’s sufficiently vexed, or fake vexed, to stop singing ”Fly Me to the Moon.”

He’s made it almost through the first two lines — ”Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars/Let me see what spring is like” — and then, all at once, he tells the orchestra to stop playing. ”They don’t like that one,” he says balefully. The crowd — or maybe it’s his backup singers, it’s hard to tell — lets out a cry of protest. ”No!” they exclaim. ”No, it’s true,” he says. ”Three people went ‘Yeah!’ and the rest of the room just sat there.”

He seems a bit hurt, but he rallies. ”It’s okay,” he tells us ruefully. ”This is not my hobby. I know another song.” And he sulks a little, and now the room begins to cheer for him and before long, we’re smacking our hands together like a roomful of seals. Wayne beams, decides to resume, and launches into ”Fly Me to the Moon” with renewed vigor. The relief in the room is palpable.

I call this the Tantrum. I have names for every part of Wayne Newton’s show, because I know his set list better than I know the liturgy of the Catholic Mass. I know when he will commence the First Telling of Lies, when he will identify the Designated Recipient of Abuse, and when he will commence the Giving of Additional Abuse to the Designated Recipient of Abuse. I know when he will pretend to surprise the orchestra with the Song We Didn’t Rehearse, and when he will pretend to surprise them with the Song We Don’t Usually Do. I know when he will drink half a Miller Lite (during the Walk of Approximately 45 Kisses) and which table he will pretend has bought it for him (C-6). I know all the words to the Medley Not Everyone Gets to Hear, which just about everyone gets to hear.

I know all these things because, in August, I spent two solid weeks going to every show Wayne Newton performed, which numbered 11: six shows a week for two weeks, minus one night he took off because he was sick. I will confess that I was not unduly disappointed when he took that night off, although I’ll also note that my fellow would-be concertgoers were furious, especially the young woman who kept repeating, over and over, ”Wiener Newton. Wiener Newton. Wiener Newton.” I will presume that unlike me, she did not have tickets in her pocket for six additional shows.

I attended 11 Wayne Newton shows for the simple reason that I wanted to know how he does what he does. Newton, 61, performs 240 shows at Las Vegas’ Stardust Resort and Casino each year — 40 weeks a year, six shows a week — and that doesn’t include the shows he performs in war zones for the USO, or the ones he does on the road. He has come to be known as Mr. Las Vegas; the road leading to the city’s airport is named for him, as is the casino’s 1,000-seat showroom, and when he signed his deal at the Stardust, it was reportedly the biggest contract in Vegas history. He had a big celebration in Las Vegas when he did his 25,000th show — and that was back in 1996. He’s probably done another 2,000 since then.