Monday, July 12, 2004 | 10:22 a.m.
It is a rare day when Strip entertainment is at the center of a decades-old geopolitical conflict.
But that is exactly the situation with "Havana Nights," a Siegfried & Roy-produced show that is supposed to play at the Stardust from July 31 to Sept. 6.
According to Reuters news agency, on Friday the 53 "Havana Nights" performers defied the Cuban government and applied for U.S. visas. This was after Cuban officials reportedly visited company members' homes to pressure them not to apply for U.S. travel permits, warning that the trip was contrary to Cuba's interests, Reuters reported.
The company has performed in 16 countries (but never the United States) since it was formed in 1999. The performers live in Cuba.
In a policy statement issued Feb. 5, the State Department said "current U.S. laws and policies generally do not allow entry into the U.S. of officers and employees of the Cuban government and communist party. There are few exceptions allowed."
Meanwhile, though no visas have been issued for the performers, the Stardust is promoting the show as if the cast members will be on hand. Billboards for the show are up all over Las Vegas, and the home page on the Stardust Web site features a quote from Siegfried & Roy: "We've witnessed the magic of this show and felt compelled to bring its electrifying energy to Las Vegas. This is one party you can't miss."
Also, the Stardust Web site lists ticket prices for the show at $54.95.
But what isn't certain is if the performers will be allowed into the United States. Cuban artists of all manner -- including dancers, singers and musicians -- are paid by the Cuban government, and therefore have been routinely denied entry into this country.
Cuban guitarist Manuel Galban was not allowed to attend the Grammys in February, when he and American guitarist Ry Cooder were to receive the award for best pop instrumental album.
Also not allowed to attend were Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer, who won for best traditional tropical album, and dozens of other Cuban musicians who were nominated for various awards.
In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun's Jerry Fink, "Havana Nights" producer Nicole "N.D." Durr was not deterred by a seemingly unshakable visa policy, but refused to divulge her plan for getting the performers to Las Vegas.
"I wanted the world to see, through this show, the glorious untouched talent of Havana," Durr told Fink. "Every beat and every note is filled with vitality and unbridled energy. The audience is invited to a party made up of glorious colors, rhythm, dance and music."
Also reported by Reuters, the troupe first tried to tour America last year, but the State Department eventually turned down the company's request for visas. However, it was a moot point by the time they acted on the request; the show had been canceled after the tiger attack on Roy Horn.
"Havana Nights" company manager Ariel Machado told Reuters that he hoped Cuban authorities would reconsider and allow the company to travel.
"I wish people dedicated to politics would stick to politics and allow those dedicated to culture to work freely," he said.
Hair-colorist-to-the-stars Michael Boychuck, who runs the AMP Salon at the Palms, played matchmaker over the weekend.
He introduced Joe Maloof to one of his longtime clients, Anna Nicole Smith, who was in town to see the "Beacher's Madhouse" show at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel.
There were subsequently multiple reports of sightings of the pair, ranging from the Gipsy nightclub on Friday night to a couple of restaurants to a predawn sighting Sunday at ghostbar.
Saturday night the couple were sitting this close to each other at the Beacher show, where they took zero notice of fellow showgoers Pauly Shore and brothers Joey Lawrence ("Blossom") and Matthew Lawrence ("Boy Meets World").
The Orleans restaurant Sazio is going ahead with the planned "Godfather"-themed wine dinner scheduled for next month.
The Aug. 17 "Dinner You Can't Refuse" will include a screening of Francis Ford Coppola's epic movie (which stars the late Marlon Brando). Wines from Coppola's vineyard will be served for each course and the winery will host a raffle and trivia contest with "Godfather" questions and prizes.
Some tickets for the $55 event remain.
Controversy in the dessert world.
After Team USA won the gold medal at the World Pastry Team Championship at The Rio on Thursday, the second- and third-place finishers -- France and Belgium -- walked out.
Our source's French is not perfect, he said, but he thought the losers were muttering things like "hometown fix" and "lingering anti-Gaulish sentiment" as they departed.
We couldn't get anyone to talk on the record about the incident, and two publicists for chefs on the winning team claimed that they were not actually in the room at the time of the walkout and said they couldn't comment about it.
"Objectively, it was a close competition, no doubt about that," our source, a food and beverage decision maker at a major Strip property, told us.
"But something like dessert can be pretty subjective. It is as basic as liking chocolate ice cream or vanilla."
Team USA gold medal winners were Claude Escamilla and Chris Hanmer from Bellagio and Patrice Calliot from the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas. The coach is Jean Philippe Maury, executive pastry chef at Bellagio, a former gold medal winner himself.
Twelve three-person pastry teams representing France, Belgium, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Switzerland, South Korea, Poland and the United States were required to create five pieces over the two-day competition.
Several readers have e-mailed rave reviews of Jimmy Hopper, the former Fontana Lounge (Bellagio) headliner, who is now on a national tour.
No surprises there. The guy is a real talent.
He plays Harrah's Lake Tahoe through Aug. 1, followed by two weeks at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, then back to Tahoe from Aug. 18 to Sept. 26. From Oct. 12 to Nov. 26 he headlines at Harrah's Atlantic City.
Give: Country star Garth Brooks, his pal Tricia Yearwood and scores of sports stars were at The Venetian this weekend to raise money for Brooks' Teammates for Kids Foundation. Founded in 1999, the foundation supports children's charities around the world ...
Fan: Wolfgang Puck's head Vegas honcho, Tom Kaplan, departs for Europe this week to watch some of the Tour de France bike race ...
Day: Boxer and Vegas fan-favorite Julio Cesar Chavez turns 42 today.
From Sun wires
Brown posts bond: R&B singer Bobby Brown turned himself in to jail officials in Atlanta on Sunday night -- a few hours before a court-imposed deadline -- and was released after posting a $2,000 bond on charges he hit his wife, singer Whitney Houston.
War movie: Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg reportedly are joining forces to bring the World War II battle of Iwo Jima to the big screen.
According to TV Guide, Eastwood will direct an adaptation of the book "Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima" for Spielberg's DreamWorks.