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IT'S NOT JUST AN ACT NEWTON IN TOUCH WITH FANS AT CHAUTAUQUA

Wayne Newton.

Nearly everyone has heard about this guy who owns some Las Vegas casinos, a collection of prize-winning Arabian stallions and the perma-grin framed by a pencil-thin black mustache.

But just why is he so popular?

Just ask the 6,000 people who flocked to the Chautauqua Institution Thursday evening to see Wayne Newton's show.

Two hours before the concert in the Amphitheater, about 200 Newton fans lined up on the stately Institution grounds to secure seats as close to Newton as they could get.

As the time neared for the show, the middle-aged crowd buzzed about the last time they had seen Newton.

About the first time he was on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in the 1960s.

About the street in Las Vegas renamed Wayne Newton Boulevard.

About the libel suit Newton won against NBC for insinuating he had mob connections.

They talked about what a nice guy Wayne Newton is.

How they feel like they know him.

It was obvious, by the end of the show, that Wayne Newton knows them, too.

As the lights dimmed and the 16-piece orchestra filed onstage, a few women screamed his name in a frenzy.

When the band started to play a few Vegas-ized notes of Neil Diamond's "America," the tuxedoed performer strolled into the spotlight.

More screams.

"Far, we've been traveling far/without a home/but not without a star."

Newton didn't exactly sing Diamond's words, he let them drip off his lips. His eyes had that Vegas squint and the perma-grin was in place.

In fact, everything was in place.

Wayne Newton and the Don Vincent Orchestra played a tight, glitzy 2 1/2 -hour set that included oozing Vega-style songs that must have been rehearsed so many times that they sounded identical.

He introduced the 1990 version of his most famous song, "Danke Shoen" by reminding the crowd that it had been used in the Matthew Broderick movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

Between every few songs, Newton broke into a comedy routine, telling worn "men vs. women" jokes and poking fun at a Pennsylvania town called Intercourse.

Then, just when it was time to dislike Newton for being trite and corny, he started to make fun of himself; of his band; of his image.

Wayne Newton knows he's the type who is easy to hate.

And that ruins it for the rest of us.

Newton also knows that his audience is just-past-middle-age America and that they want to hear corn-ball jokes and drippy songs.

So he packages America in a shiny, Vegas wrapper and sells it right back to America, where people want everything to be shiny.

In between those glitzy Vegas trappings, Wayne Newton is -- gulp -- talented.

Thursday night he played a fiddle solo that was so good it forever put to rest the 'no-talent' theory.

He also performed masterful solos on banjo and guitar.

The crowd applauded and whooped its way through three standing ovations and an encore.

Not a snicker was heard.

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