Saturday, December 3, 2022

Wayne Newton: Up Close & Personal

So before I get into this review, a few disclaimers: 

  1. If you told me a few years ago that I would actually make an effort and spend my own money to see Wayne Newton perform, I would have laughed at you. A lot.
  2. If you told me even a few months ago that I would not only see Wayne Newton perform, but also (spoiler alert!) enjoy it enough that I would recommend that others go see it, I would wonder what you were on. 

     Now, to be fair, I like crooners. But when I say that, I mean that I like the Rat Pack. To me, a pleasant evening is cooking dinner with Sinatra and Martin on the stereo and a glass of bourbon within reach. If I could see any concert ever in history, it would be Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack performing one of the Summit shows in the Copa Room at the Sands while they filmed the original Ocean's 11. But I have never considered myself a Wayne Newton fan.

What brought me to see Wayne Newton recently was what the kids call the FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out. Like it or not, Vegas is synonymous with change, and like it or not, the legacy of Wayne Newton is inextricably woven into Vegas forever. So even if I did not consider myself a fan of Wayne Newton, I had to admit that he was a living Las Vegas legend, and someday (maybe sooner than we would like) the chance to see that legend perform in the flesh might be gone. As a fan of Vegas and a frequent patron of Vegas entertainment, I almost felt what can best be described as an obligation to see Wayne Newton perform.  

"To my left is where we keep the TV."

      If you’ve been living under a proverbial Las Vegas rock and don’t know who Wayne Newton is, he is also known as Mr. Las Vegas, and has been performing on Las Vegas stages and throughout the rest of the world for more that 60 years, beginning in the late 50s at the Fremont Hotel. He’s the guy that tried to woo Helen Griswold away from Clark in Vegas Vacation. When I first started making regular trips to Vegas, Newton was performing at the Cleopatra’s Barge theater at Caesars Palace. When El Dorado took over Caesars Entertainment, they closed several shows and moved Wayne over to Bugsy’s Cabaret at the Flamingo. As shows began to open up post-pandemic, Wayne Newton’s production was delayed; first due to back surgery last year, and again due to a positive COVID diagnosis later on. Since the man is now 80 years old, I was really beginning to feel like I needed to make an effort to see him as soon as possible. 

      As I mentioned before, Wayne Newton, Up Close and Personal is now performing at Bugsy’s Cabernet, which is a small venue located in the center of the Flamingo gaming floor. The venue is also used for X-Burlesque, but you enter the theater through different doors for the different productions, making it seem like they are different venues and that the tuxedo-wearing, living legend isn’t sharing a performance space with a titty show. The size of the theater was a plus for me, because the small room ensured that we could see him well. It truly was “Up Close and Personal.” 

      As we waited in line to get into the theater, we couldn’t help but wonder what we were getting into. We’re in our mid-forties, but we were by far the youngest people in line. Was everyone here for Wayne Newton, or had we accidentally stumbled across the Matlock Fan Convention? Ha ha! Old people… 

      When most of the audience was seated, a woman stood up in front and introduced herself as the hostess. She essentially instructed us to stand up and applaud when Wayne sang his final song of the evening. I’ve seen a lot of shows, but I’ve never been told that I need to give a standing ovation. This irritated me, but it was quickly forgotten. The curtains opened, the 3-piece band began to play, and the man himself stepped out and began to sing. 

      Okay, so I’m just going to cut to the chase here. His voice is not great right now. Don’t get me wrong; he sings better than I do. It’s not awful to hear, but we’re a long way from the gravel mixed with maple syrup sounds he had in the past (for example, in Vegas Vacation). I was actually fine with this, because he’s still an incredible showman. You can tell when you see him live that he has cultivated the art of interacting with the audience. He was pointing at people in the audience he recognized, smiling and waving hello between lines of his songs. This is what I wanted! This is what I paid to see: that old school, still a small town, anyone-can-show-up feeling of old Vegas lounge and dinner shows. At one point, he stops the show to acknowledge his friend in the audience, impressionist Rich Little, who currently performs at the Tropicana. Newton reminisces about their long friendship, and times performing together decades ago at the Frontier. It reminds me of Dean Martin saying hello to Lucille Ball in the crowd at the Copa Room. It’s not the same level of celebrity, but it's the same kind of warmth and familiarity that’s tough to find in live entertainment.  

      The show itself is structured like VH1 Storytellers. Newton sings a song, then tells a story. He plays a video of himself playing an instrument at age 15, then demonstrates that he can still deftly play the same instrument. Fun fact: Wayne Newton can play 13 different instruments, but cannot read music. He plays by sound.  

Wayne Newton: Original Blue Man Group member

      It’s pretty clear that the “questions from the audience” are pre-arranged, and that’s okay. It keeps the show on rails. Newton’s stories include a confrontation with Elvis when it turned out they were dating the same girl, a last-minute recording session with Glen Campbell of the legendary “Wrecking Crew” when they both happened to be in England, a prank played on Dean Martin, and the warmest memories of his friendship with Frank Sinatra. It seemed like Newton regarded Sinatra as not only a great friend, but also a mentor and father figure. I couldn’t help but think of the “you shook Sinatra’s hand” lines from Ocean’s 13. Here, standing in front of me on the stage, was a man who really had “shook Sinatra’s hand.” I began to see Wayne Newton not only as a living Vegas legend, but also as a link to these other Vegas legends that were so important to me and this town that we love. There is also a really cool semi-live duet with a Rat-Pack member that I won’t spoil here. As I said before, I entered the room under a sense of obligation, but I was now absolutely enthralled. 

      Speaking of enthralled, the number of elderly women collectively but only figuratively losing their shit because they were getting to see Wayne Newton was both hilarious and fascinating. If I should end up at a Justin Timberlake concert in my late 70’s, will there be women of my generation going insane and throwing their Depends at him on the stage? We can only hope… I honestly was not mentally prepared for the women who were going nuts because he sang a certain song. Picture all these geriatric groupies, eyes closed and hands waving slowly in the air like members of a mega-church, and this is all because Wayne Newton is singing “Red Roses for a Blue Lady.” 

      Something else I want to mention is the cool montage at the beginning of the show which showed all the Vegas marquees over the years with Wayne Newton’s name on them. Newton began his Vegas career at the age of 15, performing 5 shows a night at the Fremont. He had to leave the property between sets, because as a minor he wasn’t allowed to hang out there. Since then, he has headlined at the Stardust, the Desert Inn, both MGM Grands, the Frontier, the Sands, Caesars Palace, and was even an owner of the original Aladdin. Over the years, he has performed over 30,000 shows in Vegas and released more than 100 albums. 

      I’ve started including the A.F.F., or Audience Fuckery Factor in these reviews. That is where we discuss how much you need to worry about being accidentally included in the show. I think I can safely say that unless you know Wayne Newton personally, or unless you count being asked to take part in a standing ovation, the A.F.F. for Wayne Newton, Up Close and Personal is minimal. He’s not going to Ellen Griswold you, people. 

      To sum up our experience, I still don’t think of myself as a Wayne Newton fan per se, but I definitely have a much greater appreciation and respect for him. He shook Sinatra’s hand, he’s a Las Vegas treasure, and absolutely deserves a standing ovation; no prompting necessary. 

      At the time of this review, Wayne Newton, Up Close and Personal is live at Bugsy’s Cabaret at the Flamingo at 7:00 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Tickets start at $86, and we always appreciate it when you click the referral link here or on the website. 

      You can find Josh on twitter @vegasjaydubs

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Miss Behave's Mavericks

    Imagine your favorite local bar gathered its funniest, sexiest, strangest, and most talented patrons and friends, and brought them together to put on a wild variety show and you’ve got a reasonable idea of what you’d experience when you see Miss Behave's Mavericks. 

    So back in spring, there was some buzz starting to grow about a new show downtown, Miss Behave’s Mavericks. Vital Vegas had reported on it. (I have to say here that I often appreciate Vital Vegas’s perspective and info - and I know he’s a friend of the podcast - but he seems to have a love of all things downtown that I don’t necessarily share.) But the buzz kept growing, and it really piqued my curiosity. I knew about the previous Miss Behave show - which was at Bally’s - but only by name. 

    I also am not afraid to admit that I’m kind of a value shopper when it comes to Vegas. I’m always looking for the deals and the bang-for-your-buck. So when I found out that’s tickets were $25 each, I was sold. By the way, they’ve since gone up to $39 per person, but this is still a hell of a deal. You’d be hard-pressed to find another show in town at that price. A little more on cost later. 

Cheapshot in Fremont East is a whole mood.

     Miss Behave’s Mavericks is playing at Cheapshot, which is in the first block of Fremont East, in the space formerly occupied by Beauty Bar. We saw this show in July, and of course it was super hot outside. Seating is first come first serve, so we wanted to get there early to get good seats. Now this was probably our least enjoyable part of the experience. It’s Vegas. It’s July. It’s hot outside. We arrived at 6 for a 7:00 curtain time. The website said the doors opened at 6, so we’re thinking this shouldn’t be a problem. But there’s a fence and a closed gate in front of the doors, and they aren’t letting anyone in. I was thinking that maybe they were doing this to make the show seem better, because whatever was inside was better than standing out on the street and melting. The show could have just been watching aardvark’s shitting and it would have been great as long as there was air conditioning. 

    Honestly, the venue staff did their best to try to make up for it. Miss Behave herself (the stage name of performer and host Amy Saunders) came out and apologized and handed out cold water bottles. She explained that the doors didn’t actually open until 6:30, and she had requested several times for the info online to be changed, but it hadn’t been changed yet. Keep in mind that when we arrived, there were 2 groups of people in front of us, and before they finally let us in quite the line had developed behind us. Since seating is first come, first serve, I recommend you still arrive about an hour before showtime, even if the doors open only 30 minutes prior. Just have a cold drink in hand, and maybe choose your show time carefully. I’m just grateful that the venue is on the south side of the street, so we had some shade.

Look, I'll be honest: I have no idea what's happening here.
A few words about seating… As I’ve already mentioned, the venue is first come, first serve. When it was our turn to be seated, they asked if we wanted to be more towards the front or more towards the back. I said “more towards the front” and they put us right smack in the front row. I wasn’t expecting this, but was fine with it. If I didn’t want to be so close, like some people might, I’m sure they would have moved us if I requested it. The chairs were small cane-back chairs that had no cushions, so it was a little uncomfortable. Lacking a better option, I ended up setting my drink on the stage. Speaking of the stage, like the venue, it’s very cozy. There’s only room for maybe a dozen people in the front row. Everyone is in the same style of seating, and our chairs are on the floor in the bar - there’s no slope like theater seating has - so it might get more difficult to see the further back you are. Thankfully, it's such a small venue that I don’t think this is an issue.

One other point about the venue, my wife wants me to point out that the restrooms were nice and big and very clean.

 Drink service at the venue is excellent. They have a decent-sized menu (available online) of standard cocktails (old fashioned, sex on the beach, margarita), beers, and wines. Drink prices are reasonable for Vegas.

     Here’s where another cost comes in. You should bring cash to the show - about $20 or so per person - in order to show your support for the performers. See, Miss Behave’s Mavericks likes the audience to support performers “strip club style” by throwing bills on the stage. It’s a fun gimmick that is very Vegas-appropriate. Even if you’ve just got a crisp $20 bill in hand, they’ll make change for you before the show.

     Okay, so let's talk about the show itself. Miss Behave’s Mavericks is a variety show. It’s a very eclectic variety show. It’s sometimes thrilling, sometimes soulful, sometimes sexy, somewhat confusing and very hilarious. I like to think of it as “Absinthe Lite.” This means that the show I saw is not the show you’re going to see, but let's face it: that’s not the worst gamble you’ve taken in this town. We saw a gender-bending strip act that brought the “confusing boner” phrase back to mind. We saw a little person on roller skates do a deliberately terrible dance number to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” that had me in tears from laughing so hard. You might see hula-hooping chicken. Who the fuck knows?

     Miss Behave herself is the emcee, and she’s excellent. She’s quick to explain the money throwing thing, that pictures are okay and social media is encouraged, and she’s very clear that everyone is there to have a great time. I’m not sure that I can articulate this without sounding hokey, but for what it's worth, we truly felt that they wanted to be gracious hosts and as welcoming as possible. Oh and she also swallows swords. That was nuts to see from the front row.

Trice B Phantom brings the soul
     Singer Trice B Phantom is a frequent performer, and he sang an amazing rendition of “What’s Going On,” that I felt unworthy to witness. The icing on the cake for us was burlesque performer “Banbury Cross” who closed out the show with the best burlesque striptease I have ever seen, and I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur. Unfortunately for all of you, she was only there for a limited two week run. This is how Miss Behave’s Mavericks operates. Some performers are regulars, some are in town for limited shows, and some, such as Tape Face, might even be from other local shows and just popping in for a show or two. Like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates, you never know… From a risk/reward standpoint, even if you don’t like the version of the show you end up seeing, you’re out the cost of a low-priced ticket, maybe an in-expensive drink or two, and you’re a half block from FSE.

     For us, when the show was over we wanted to stay. Cheapshot converts into either a club or a piano bar after the show depending on the night, and we really just wanted to stay, drink, and party with the performers. Unfortunately, we had reservations back on the strip. We’ve already talked about seeing Miss Behave’s Mavericks again, and making sure that we don’t plan anything after the show.

     Something I’ll be including in reviews is what I call the “A.F.F.” or Audience Fuckery Factor. Some people hate to be singled out or involved in the slightest, and it’s important to point out when you might accidentally be drawn into the show… There was one person a few seats from me who helped the little person with this “Total Eclipse of the Heart” number, but I think this can be expected when you’re in the front row. There’s a few performances that started away from the stage near the front door, and they worked their way through the crowd towards the stage. Miss Behave herself does some of her emcee work by standing on the bar, probably in an attempt to draw eyes away from the stage while they switch out equipment or set pieces. Anyway, if I haven’t made it clear, this show is an ever-changing thing. Even if no one in my audience was messed with, it doesn’t mean no one in your audience will be messed with. I think you’ll have a blast either way.

Better start figuring out how to sell the wife on this now

The wife and I thoroughly enjoyed Miss Behave’s Mavericks. It is easily in my top 3 Vegas entertainment experiences, and number 1 in terms of value. Something that is important to note: I learned as I was finishing up this review that the show is going into hiatus after Thanksgiving. If you know anything about entertainment in Vegas, you know that “hiatus” can often be code for “closing at this venue, but we won’t say ‘closing’ to give the show a chance to find another space.” I sincerely hope that is not the case here, because this show is an absolute gem and deserves all the life it can get. If you’re going to be in Vegas between now and Thanksgiving I encourage you to check the show out, so there’s no question that Miss Behave’s Mavericks returns in spring, which is when they say we can see it again after the holidays.

     Tickets are available directly at the venue’s website which is at At the time of this review, shows are Thursdays at 7, Fridays at 8, and two shows on Saturdays at 8 and 10:30.

 You can find Josh on twitter @vegasjaydubs