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November 28, 2014

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Planet Hollywood brandishes Britney Spears as premiere of ‘Piece of Me’ approaches

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Steve Marcus

Britney Spears arrives at Planet Hollywood on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. Spears is making preparations for the debut of her two-year residency, “Britney: Piece of Me,” that is scheduled to begin at Planet Hollywood on Dec. 27.

Britney Spears Arrival at Planet Hollywood

Britney Spears arrives at Planet Hollywood on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. Spears is making preparations for the debut of her two-year residency, “Britney: Piece of Me,” that is scheduled to begin at Planet Hollywood on Dec. 27. Launch slideshow »

Eight Minutes of Fury has long been the name hooked to the “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler-Thomas “Hitman” Hearns 1985 middleweight title fight at Caesars Palace, in which Hagler issued a manic third-round knockout in one of the greatest and fastest bouts in boxing history.

“The only complaint,” announcer Al Michaels said as Hearns was helped back to his corner, “was that it didn’t last longer.”

Eight minutes of fury returned to Las Vegas on a breezy and chilly Tuesday afternoon on the Strip. To the delight of the more than a thousand fans at the front entrance of Planet Hollywood, a team of black-sequined-bikini dancers led by Jennifer Romas boogied as if enjoying a pool party at 95 degrees, the great fire crossbow and fire artist Ottavio Gesmundo spat flames several feet high, snake charmer Maria the Snake Babe arrived with her slithery props, and aerialists spun aloft while clinging to streams of silk.

In all, 23 performers frolicked along the steps and at the front of the hotel in the Blair Farrington-produced mini-spectacle, a pink-metal BRITNEY sign at the side serving to remind of the star of the moment.

All of this hooey preceded the arrival of Britney Spears, the point of which was to formally welcome the 32-year-old pop superstar (her birthday was Monday) for her headlining gig at the renovated venue currently known as PH Live. Spears’ two-year, 96-show run starts Dec. 27, with tickets at $59 to $229, the demand so strong that the public sale date has been pushed to Saturday.

Spears has been rehearsing in Los Angeles but next week shifts her practice schedule to Vegas. The theater that has been scaled back to 4,500 seats from its original 7,000, with a set of VIP tables and a dance floor being built into the theater, and a 25-foot “thrush” stage extension constructed to give the old Theater for the Performing Arts a more nightclub-like atmosphere.

Spears rumbled up in style, a passenger in a mint-condition 1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible. She signed a few autographs, including one random signature for Derrick Barry, who plays Spears in “Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas” at the Quad (Barry caught Spears’ attention even though he was not in his dazzling Spears costume and makeup). Then she strode the steps, took the mic and said, “What’s up, Vegas? I’m so incredibly happy to be here right now! This is my city now, and I can’t wait to see you guys opening night!”

It is not certain whether Spears meant that she now owns Vegas as the city’s hottest headliner or instead meant that this is “my city” because she will be spending a lot more time here as a result of her performance schedule. Regardless, Planet Hollywood President David Hoenemeyer said Spears belongs at the top of the list of the greatest entertainers on the Strip, a field that includes the star-studded lineup of Celine Dion, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Shania Twain at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

“Her star power is so big, there’s really nobody in the pop world or entertainment world who is like her today,” Hoenemeyer said. “Obviously, I have my own prejudices because this is at my own property, but I believe she is the best of the best. No disrespect at all intended toward Celine, Shania or Elton John, Rod Stewart — these are magnificent performers — but what I look at is how she resonates to the younger crowd. That’s where a lot of the business goes. You need to develop that younger group of customers who will have that staying power, and we believe they will come to see her.”

What about an artist who does not yet fit the “legacy” model but is enormously popular among those younger music fans? He would be Bruno Mars, in a shorter residency beginning Dec. 29 and New Year’s Eve across the street from Planet Hollywood at the Cosmopolitan’s new 3,000-seat Chelsea venue.

“Sure, I think that it’s an interesting run, and he’s immensely talented, there is no questioning that,” Hoenemeyer said. “But again, I go back to the staying power of Britney, with 15 years on the scene and no end in sight as I’m concerned. No disrespect to Bruno, but that is a high bar to reach for, it really is.”

Some details of Spears’ production are trickling out even before she has started her Vegas rehearsals. The production will feature 14 dancers, a five-musician rhythm section and multiple set changes. How much vocal and music tracking will be incorporated in the show is not known, but entertainers around the city expect Spears’ voice will be extensively tracked for all the dancing she’ll be required to perform.

Regardless, the massive turnout Tuesday afternoon and the hot ticket sales indicate that Planet Hollywood is fine with the new, informal title: “Planet Britney.”

“I’ll tell you, she has lived up to every expectation, whether it’s ticket sales or the anecdotal information we’ve received related to her dress rehearsals, the production, the way the show and theater looks,” Hoenemeyer said. “Knock on wood, I think everything is where it needs to be. I feel really good about it.”

All that’s left is for the Strip’s newest superstar to come out swingin’.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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