Monday, May 16, 2011

Mr. Las Vegas in Mitchell

Ah, the last day of a stretch of time off, one that originally was going to be nine days long, then became eight, then finally one day off, one day at work, then six days off. Oh well, it was quite enjoyable anyway.

As usual, this vacation was coordinated with my wife's doctor's appointments in Sioux Falls, but also with a special event for her; a Wayne Newton concert at the Corn Palace (oops, that's The World's Only! Corn Palace) in Mitchell. My wife is a slobbering Wayne Newton fan. She's had a crush on him since she saw him on The Lucy Show in 1965. (Googling....yes, it's out there.) She saw him in Las Vegas just before he stopped his regular gigs there, and this was likely her last chance to see him again, so when I heard about this show and saw that the tickets weren't outlandishly expensive by today's frightening standards I jumped at it.

We got there about an hour early and there was already a crowd waiting for the doors to open. I noticed at least two charter buses of people from around the state. I also noticed that I was probably in the lower 20% agewise. (When Newton announced that a couple was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary I sensed a fair amount of "I remember when we hit 50 years" feeling in the crowd.) My wife purchased two souvenirs; a key chain with Newton's picture and a nightgown that has "I spent an evening with Wayne Newton" printed on it, augmenting her t-shirt from the previous concert and a poster for this one that she got from a Pierre restaurant.

As venues go, the Corn Palace is small, even by South Dakota standards. There are permanent seats on only one of the long sides of the main arena, with a stage opposite them and barely enough room for a basketball court in between (no seats on the ends of the court). This theater-like layout does, however, suit it well for shows like this one, when they put seats on the court. Our seats were straight out and just a bit above stage level (per the suggestion of the lady I talked to when I ordered the tickets back in December) which was just about right. The show started pretty close to on-time with a band that interestingly was over half local talent; Newton only travels with a small core of regulars.

This was my first live exposure to a Las Vegas-style act, and I immediately noticed a few things. First, Newton seemed to really enjoy himself. After so many years he could hardly be blamed for being a bit weary of the whole thing, but he came out with good energy and did his best to liven up the crowd, which responded as best they could for their age. Second, there must be certain standard songs, because Newton did a few that I had seen Elvis do in a movie of his show. In fact, I couldn't help but think about how Elvis might have looked if he had still been alive and performing at Newton's age (69).

My biggest impression was that Newton really is a multi-talented guy. He played a number of instruments, sang a wide variety of songs and told a few jokes. Like any performer of that type, though, he did some things better than others. I've never been that big a fan of his singing voice, and frankly I think he should re-examine some of his choices of material. I thought of George Jones, who we saw in 2008 and who is 11 years older than Newton. Jones is also not what he once was, but he sticks within his range and style and can still put on a good show; Newton could learn from that. On the other hand, Newton was quite competent on guitar and actually pretty good on violin. He also gave some of his backup talent a chance to show their stuff, and as you would expect they were excellent.

The show went for a little shy of 2 hours, and I got the feeling that his fans were quite happy with it. I know my wife thought it was great. That's really all any entertainer could hope to accomplish.

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