By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — "Mr. Las Vegas" himself Wayne Newton led an impromptu sing-a-long on Old Falls Street Friday night.
In keeping with the season, the legendary performer asked a crowd of more than 50 onlookers to help him with an on-the-street rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."
The crowd, including the likes of Mayor Paul Dyster and newly elected Seneca Nation of Indians President Barry Snyder Sr., happily obliged.
"It feels wonderful," Newton said following a brief ceremony where helped light the holiday lights on the trees lining Old Falls Street. "I think the christmas spirit and the holiday spirit and everybody coming together to make sure that the lights are turned on again on this fabulous street, kind of says it all. That's what these people are all about."
For a self-proclaimed "Wayniac" like Sandi Kaugas the moment was indicative of the type of personalized entertainment Newton has been delivering to big fans like her for decades. The Des Plaines, Ill. resident arrived in the Falls for a vacation on Thursday. She watched her idol in action that night and plans to see him at least two more times at Seneca Niagara Casino before she leaves for home.
"I've known him for about 30 years," said Kaugas, a longtime member of the International Wayne Newton Fan Club who said she's met the man often referred to as "Mr. Entertainment" many times, even visited his ranch with other club members. "It's his music. His showmanship. He's just a great guy."
Newton held the first of seven shows scheduled for the Seneca Niagara Events Center on Wednesday. He'll appear again tonight, with his last show set for Sunday.
During Friday's ceremony on Old Falls Street, he was given a key to the city by Mayor Paul Dyster, who explained that the tradition dates back to the Middle Ages when communities were walled in to guard against vandals and marauders. Dyster said it was common practice in those days for trusted friends of those gated communities to be given a key to unlock a door, offering access to the city.
Dyster said Newton was deserving of a key - the highest honor Niagara Falls could bestow - not only for his work as an entertainer, but for his humanitarian efforts, including USO performances for trips in every major U.S. confrontation since Vietnam and support for organizations like the National Association of Missing and Abused Children.
Jerry Wolfgang from the United Way of Greater Niagara, which helps sponsor the holiday lights on Old Falls Street, also presented Newton with "December Morning," a print by Niagara Falls artist Paul Hanover.
Newton said he's received keys to cities before over the years, but said Dyster was the first to explain the tradition behind it.
"I've received one or two over my career - keys to the city - and I've tried them and they didn't work and I didn't know why. So, now I know the full story and I appreciate that," Newton quipped.
Newton, 70, has been singing, acting and entertaining since age 6. He's considered an icon in Las Vegas and, in addition to his "Mr. Las Vegas" tag, is commonly known as "The Midnight Idol" and "Mr. Entertainment." He is best known for his rendition of the song "Danke Schoen," but has had other hits, including 1972s "Daddy, Don't You Walk So Fast" and his vocal version of "Red Roses for a Blue Lady."
Wolfgang said he last met with Newton when he helped usher in the annual A Festival of Lights in the Falls back in the 1990s.
Newton said he's impressed by the many changes that have occurred on the American side since then, including improvements on Old Falls Street and Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel itself.
"It's been wonderful," Newton, who is himself Native American, said. "It's great that the Native Americans are giving back to everybody this way, in terms of not only the magnificent hotel, but bringing entertainment in and doing things that help people get away from the doldrums of life right now and find some happiness."
Newton said those attending his "Christmas with Wayne Newton" shows in the Falls will hear songs in keeping with the season, with a healthy mix of his more traditional numbers.
Newton said his goal for each show is to make sure his fans walk away having had a good
"The truth of the matter is those fans are why I have life," Newton said. "A gentleman walked up and said I had bought him dinner years ago in Boston when he was leaving for Vietnam to fight for our country. Those are the moments that give me a reason to wake up each day."
Tickets for Newton's remaining shows at the Seneca casino start at $20. Seats are available. Tickets for all shows are available at Seneca Casino box offices, Ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster locations, or by phone at 800-745-3000.