When entertainer Wayne Newton is good, he's pretty good, but when he's bad he's horrid. At the Merriweather Post Pavilion last night, the bad heavily outweighed the good as Newton pandered to his audience's minimal expectations with overwrought and overproduced songs, mildly offensive patter and a virtual catalogue of cliche'd poses and stage moves.
Dressed like a fancy bellhop, Newton proceeded to carry most of his tunes as if they were luggage at the Aladdin Hotel--carefully, dutifully and directly. It's ironic that the world's highest-paid entertainer is little more than a glorified lounge singer. His set consisted of pit stops on the pop music circuit--a little up-tempo country, a couple of ballads, some rock 'n' roll, some latter-day Sinatra. Newton showed his strength, a husky baritone sliding up into a rich tenor, on a scorching Hank Williams medley, a surprisingly effective Chuck Berry classic, ("Johnny B. Goode") and several contemporary tunes. And when he sang away from the syrupy strings or sappy brass of his 28-piece orchestra on songs such as "Lady" and "Endless Love," Newton was believable if not entirely convincing.
Throughout the night, Newton showed how pleased he was with himself with cocked eyebrows, a listing Don Ameche mustache and some amazing looks of condescension. But Columbia isn't Las Vegas and Wayne Newton certainly isn't Mr. Columbia. Some shows just don't play too well on the road.