Musical legends don’t get any bigger than Engelbert Humperdinck. Born Arnold Dorsey, the Englishman adopted his stage name from the Austrian composer who wrote Hansel and Gretel and the ensuing years have seen the 70-year-old singer play out a personal fairytale. Since entrenching in Las Vegas, Humperdinck has sold more than 130 million albums and steadily broken women’s hearts around the world. That includes the elderly ladies seated behind me who, prior to the concert’s commencement, endearingly plotted how and when they would rush the stage.
“He always plays ‘Release Me’ last, so we should do it then,” suggested one, causing the other to politely solicit permission for such a move from a passing waitress. The anticipation around me was infectious, and while I wasn’t about to charge the stage, I was looking forward to the evening’s performance. As the matrix of spotlights pierced the smoke-filled stage, the man himself strolled onto the stage and the auditorium’s immediate sighs attested to the wave of hearts breaking across the room.
Adorned in a black, glitter-trimmed dinner suit and sporting Elvis-style sideburns with his unnaturally black hair, for the next hour or so Humperdinck toured us through a collection of his best-known ballads. When he shied away from cheap Vegas antics, the man was good, really good. He infectiously threw forth his classics, but the pinnacle of the performance was his impassioned execution of Eddy Arnold’s “He’ll Have to Go” and the gorgeous delivery of his own “After the Loving.” But the blundering humor between songs lay in awkward contrast to the music’s romanticism.
Was I disappointed that Humperdinck didn’t sing the hell out of all his ballads? Of course. And did I feel that the cheapness of his humor and rehearsed showman theatrics took the shine off the music? I did indeed. But this wasn’t about me — it was about the 1,000 other people who comprised the sea of silver heads that swayed in time with every song. As “Release Me” wound down, my shoulder was used as leverage for the frantic charge. The ladies once behind me were now swaying at the foot of the stage. Just like the glowing faces that surrounded them, Engelbert Humperdinck had undoubtedly presented each and every one of them with a fairytale of their own.