Planet goes into orbit

VIPs heading into a private concert by Barbra Streisand filed past dancing girls on top of the circular bar out front.

But that was no surprise, because dancing girls were just about everywhere inside Planet Hollywood during its grand opening weekend. Celebrities too, along with hundreds of gawkers flashing cameras at them, separated by enough velvet rope to perhaps reach the top of the Stratosphere.

Sure, the bankrupt Aladdin was renamed Planet Hollywood way back in April. But this two-night “now we’re really here” statement celebrated the property’s $1 billion renovation with the flashiness that co-owner Robert Earl hopes will gain the respect of his better-established peers.

“We have big plans for the brand, so we hope that tomorrow Mr. (Steve) Wynn likes what we’re doing with this building,” Earl said during his Steisand introduction. He also thanked front-row pals Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone, who “stuck by me through thick and thin” in what Earl called the “turbulent” ’90s era of Planet Hollywood theme restaurants.

But like the new neighbors who try just a little too hard too impress with their block party, the bash featured underwhelming star turns by Streisand on Saturday and comedian Jon Stewart on Friday. Tardiness also marked the whole weekend, all the way to the climactic Saturday night party band Earth, Wind & Fire, and the awkward minutes of silence that fell between Stallone’s introduction of the R&B legends and their actual performance.

Spectators lined up early and then waited an extra hour to see stars on the never-ending red carpet spanning the entire length of the casino’s outdoor Strip frontage. Just when it seemed no feet beyond publicists and bomb-sniffing dogs would tread the carpet, the crowd was treated to sights such as Miss Universe (Riyo Mori) waving to the country band playing on top of a bus prowling the Strip.

Streisand did not, of course, walk the carpet; one executive affiliated with the bash said a limo waited at the stage door to whisk her to the airport after her performance. But on the carpet, she had perhaps-unlikely representation from her hip-hop constituency.

“When she get on that stage, ain’t nobody out-diva-ing the diva,” opined sublimely relaxed comedian Eddie Griffin. “When Barbra comes, she brings it.”

“She’s a legend. She’s incredible. It’s like Barbra Streisand, Mick Jagger, Run-DMC … ” said Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC. “These pop stars nowadays are crazy. I mean, Barbra might be a little crazy too, but she ain’t as crazy as Paris, or Britney.”

Inside, Streisand still sang better than Britney. But her voice was down to a hoarse, albeit kinda sexy range in a 40-minute performance, which about 5,000 people could follow on a giant TelePrompter that hung from the balcony. She blamed her cold on husband James Brolin.

The former Aladdin concert hall once was scandalized when previous management gave Linda Ronstadt the bum’s rush for her anti-Bush commentary. Prominent Democrat Streisand took the high road, simply dedicating “Happy Days Are Here Again” as “a prayer for our country’s future.”

“The Daily Show” comedian Stewart pulled no such punches, asking, in more explicit terms, if every conservative Republican covets gay sex. Vice President Cheney, he also noted, is the guy you call when you end up with a dead hooker in your hotel room.

But Stewart also started nearly an hour late, and he too competed with free drinks. “I want Tom Arnold to be awake when this is over,” Stewart said, noting the actor a few rows away.

With Stewart and Streisand both performing for little longer than it took to herd people in and out, the better idea for big-name entertainment turned out to be Saturday’s ballroom bash. Sugar Ray, the band, played for Sugar Ray Leonard, the boxer, amid other notables, and Earth, Wind & Fire kept the dance floor hot until 2:30 a.m.

One celebrant was Judd Apatow, a genuine hot movie director (“Knocked Up”) on the actual planet Hollywood. He too was underwhelmed by Streisand, but nonetheless welcomed the reprieve from the Writers Guild strike.

“I have nothing else to do,” Apatow noted early in the evening. “If I had a job, maybe I would have said I need to write. Instead I said, ‘Thank you for taking me out of my lonely home.’”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0288.

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