Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013 | 4:02 p.m.
It was about 4:50 a.m. when a husky gent in a yellow “SECURITY” shirt advanced toward Derrick Barry and started asking questions.
Such questions as, “You’re not going to do anything weird this morning, are you?”
“No,” Barry said. “I’m in a show. I do this for a living.”
At that moment, Barry happened to be dressed as Britney Spears.
The security guard paused, looked Barry up and down and asked for his name. Maybe this was for security reasons, or perhaps because he is now a fan.
Barry famously and fabulously portrays Britney Spears in “Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas.” Other than appear as he does regularly onstage at the Quad Showroom, which is to wear a sequined bikini, a blonde wig and a triple coat of stage makeup, there is nothing at all weird about Mr. Barry.
Barry was one of 1,300 employees, or peripherally linked individuals, of Caesars Entertainment hotels invited to a dried lake bed — Circus Lake, I guess — near Jean for Spears’ formal announcement of her Planet Hollywood PH Live theater residency. But the venue will not be called PH Live by the time Spears takes over for a two-year, 96-show run on Dec. 27.
Originally called the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts, that venue is to be renamed once more. The new name hasn’t been decided, but after today’s dizzying mass gathering, Circus Theater would be apt.
Playing off the Spears song and album of that title, the event in Jean was a circus-like happening even before Barry was spotted standing with the mass of guests invited and herded to the event by Caesars Entertainment.
For this announcement, the media contingent was to meet at the Colosseum at Caesars at 3 o’clock — in the morning.
We were the graveyard shift.
This arrival time was enforced so that we could observe and tweet up what was the latest in a series of over-the-top announcements by Caesars Entertainment. The company’s PR reps acutely understand the power of hype: They organized a vast welcome home at the entrance of Caesars for the late-arriving Celine Dion in February 2011, paraded Shania Twain along the Strip with a stampede of thoroughbreds in November and in February set a piano aflame for CeeLo Green in advance of his series of shows at Planet Hollywood.
That latter announcement spectacle was easily more adventurous and entertaining than CeeLo’s “Loberace” dud that played out at PH Showroom.
As we arrived at the somewhat mucky location, we noticed a bus had sunk helplessly into the mud. This craft had delivered many of the models dressed as schoolgirls, hearkening to the “Baby One More Time” video from Spears’ teen years. Or, more specifically, 1998, way back when Spears was competing with ’N Sync, Ricky Martin and The Spice Girls for pop-music supremacy.
She’s an established star now, ripe for a Vegas-styled resurgence at age 31.
This morning’s master plan, the “Piece of Me” unveiling, was laid out so “Good Morning America” could air Spears’ residency announcement live for TV viewers in the Eastern Time Zone. Those on hand were directed to form a giant square and hold cards aloft that produced images of Spears in her youth and another of her today. She viewed this intricate imagery while hovering high above the scene in a helicopter.
This was to be the second-most-famous aerial view of a Las Vegas attraction, trailing only the Luxor light beam.
Adding to the unique suspense of the event, Spears became sick while hovering above the scene (the joke later on the bus ride back to Caesars was that Spears became queasy while watching Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards).
In a plume of dust, she appeared from her ’copter and ducked into a black SUV. She was then delivered to a red carpet — which was scarred because the likes of "Extra’s" Mario Lopez and, well, all of us had already walked across it — for her interview with “GMA’s” Sam Champion. She wore a black pantsuit with a sheen strip down the middle, her eyes concealed by a big pair of superstar shades.
Spears did look in pretty fair repair for someone who, reportedly, had just retched and was being interviewed in the middle of nowhere and on national TV at 6 a.m. Her quick getaway did preclude her being interviewed by Lopez, however, who hung out for at least an hour (along with everyone else) before Spears was dropped into the scene.
For Spears, this is just the beginning. A lot is being asked of her in Las Vegas. PH Live has been tailored to her specification. The room has scaled back some, but is still a daunting capacity at 4,500 seats (though it can still be expanded to its original 7,000). Ninety-six shows over two years at a cost of $66.50 to $194.50 is a monster assignment, in the same range of challenge as Celine Dion’s residency at the Colosseum (60 shows per year and 4,000 seats).
But Caesars reps on hand this morning say they are confident Spears is still a viable artist. Her new single, “Work Bitch,” reached No. 1 in 35 countries within two days of its release. She also fits the “legacy” classification, which is defined in this context as a recording artist who reaches multiple generations and demographics (Dion, Twain, Elton John and Rod Stewart at the Colosseum are “legacy” models, as is Motley Crue as it preps for another run at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel).
As Caesars Entertainment Vice President of Entertainment Kurt Melien said just after Spears was spirited away, “She is an icon who has two consecutive sold-out world tours in 2009 (“Circus”) and 2011 (“Femme Fatale”), and she’s still producing new music that is relevant popular.”
David Hoenemeyer, regional president of Planet Hollywood, has bought into the Caesars Entertainment team’s market research. He also has a more anecdotal piece of data on which to rely.
“My daughter is 23 years old, and she tells me Britney Spears will sell tickets.” Hoenemeyer said. “She’s in the media, too.” Hoenemeyer was speaking of his daughter Lauren, who is a producer with CBS News.
As Hoenemeyer talked, the sun rose and shone over a highly unlikely locale for a national entertainment news event.
Only a major star merits such a to-do. Say what you want about her artistic merit, the quality of her music and her live performances: There is only one Britney Spears.
Even Derrick Barry would agree with that.