Barbra's Full House

updated 01/17/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/17/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

IT WAS THE LIVE ENTERTAINMENT EVENT OF 1993, NOT TO MENTION 1994. When Barbra Streisand opened the 5,005-room MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas with shows on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day—her first paid concerts in 22 years—the town witnessed the hoopla of an inauguration, a coronation and Oscar night rolled into one. "Not since Elvis played Las Vegas have seen such a main event," bubbled fitness guru Richard Simmons. Said Motown chairman Clarence Avant: "Nobody cared how much it cost. Being there was the thing."

Among those shrugging off the show's $50-to-$1,000 ticket price ($5,000 from scalpers) was Michael Jackson, making his first in-the-flesh public appearance since returning to the U.S. Dec. 10. The Elusive One shared the thrill with Mel Gibson, Michael Douglas, Steven Spielberg, Erank and Kathie Lee Gilford, Donna Karan, Jay Leno and First Mother Virginia Kelley (in her last public appearance before her death). Even Saturday Night Lite's Mike Myers popped up onstage in his Linda Richman "Coffee Talk" character to declare Barbra's appearance "like buttah."

To lure Streisand to his new showcase, MGM Grand proprietor Kirk Kerkorian had opened negotiations with a $3 million gift, then he anted up another $500,000 when the deal was sealed, all destined for Streisand's favorite charities. In all, not counting the sales of $85 Barbra T-shirts, $45 silk boxer shorts, $25 programs and other mementos, Streisand herself is expected to earn about $6 to $7 million before expenses from the two holiday performances.

Barbra herself busybodied all the details, even designing her costumes: a black velvet gown with a white satin inset, and a while georgette suit slit up to here. (The all-white Palladian stage set was inspired by a recent trip to Thomas Jefferson's Monticcllo.) Even ace music director Marvin Hamlisch fell prey to her perfectionism in rehearsal ("Marvin, I love you, but the drums have to go!").

The nitpicking paid off. From the opening song, "Everything's as if We Never Said Goodbye" from Sunset Boulevard, to the final "For All We Know," a nervous Barbra, 51, held the glittery audience in the palm of her well-manicured hand. At show's end she departed from her scripted autobiographical between-song patter to squeal: "I did it! I did it! I did it!"

The crowd was moved. While rumors flew backstage that Barbra would tour again, would tape the show for television or maybe even run for office, some firstnighters just stayed with the glow. "It's great to hear music again," said veteran producer Quincy Jones, who ought to know. ""There's a lot of gruntin' and mumblin' going on, but it's not that many people who really sing anymore."

From Our Partners