The set is, in a word, pink. When walking into the auditorium and seeing the stage, your first thought could be this is where the Pink Panther meets Barbie. Though there are different shades, the curtains, revolving padded walls, center stairs, and raised platform are all varying shades of pink. Even the six chairs that start out downstage center, though actually white, initially appear pink.
How do you stage a farce when the truth is stranger than fiction? Enter the mind of Britney Spears – that’s the basis of Guggenheim Entertainment’s “Becoming Britney” now running at the Retro Dome in San Jose.
The tabloid press has had quite a windfall covering Britney Spears ever since she entered the pop music scene in 1997 when she was only 16 although she’d been performing in television since early 1990. In her life, the facts are rather startling: from her overbearing stage mother wanting her to be a television and pop star, to her three marriages and two children, to her head-shaving incident which was deemed a cry for help, and her numerous stays in rehab. Given such a checkered a past (quite a feat considering she only turned 30 last December), why wouldn’t somebody write a musical to chronicle her story? One thing is certain, if it’s about Britney, it will be very pink.
Molly Bell and Daya Curley did just that, and the result is a snarky trip into Britney’s mind where we travel through inner space with Bell in the title role. She starts out in rehab at the “Promises, Promises PR Fixery & Spirit Spa”. The moderator (Leanne Borghesi who also plays Britney’s mother) leads a group of Man 1 (Adam Theodore Barry), Man 2/K-Fed/Justin Timberlake (Keith Pinto), Woman 1 (Danelle Medeiros), and Woman 2 (Lizzie O’Hara), all figments in Britney’s mind wanting to help her to help herself. They delve into her psyche immediately after she’s apparently shaved her head, asking her why she did it, and what she wants out of life. They insist that her story must be told through song and dance, starting with the effect her mother has had on her.
It’s not often that the playwright/composer plays the title role, but in this case, the part fits Bell like a glove. She’s mastered Britney’s mannerisms, vocal and speech qualities, and even in satire, she makes a believable Britney Spears. While the skull cap is a tad too noticeable, she handles the wig and quick costume changes (some right on stage) and her soaring dances beautifully.
Right from the start of the show, there are allusions to both Broadway and to Britney’s pop song lyrics and dance moves, complete with high energy performances all around, precision choreography, and solid vocals. There are a few moments where the actors lip synch, adding one of the many things that they readily, and rightfully, lampoon. One early production number starts out as a copy of “NYC” from “Annie” which morphs into several other unrelated Broadway production numbers from shows such as “Evita” and “42nd Street”, all the while keeping the “NYC” flavor alive.
The show follows a traditional musical structure when suddenly, the group realizes that it’s getting late in what would be Act 1 (except that this is a one-act), so it must be time for Britney to sing her “I Want” song. They explain to her the song is a solo where she has to express what she really wants. Of course with Britney being so confused about her life, she sings that she wants an “I Want” song. Yes, it’s a bit circular. The story continues through her marriages, her children, her head shaving incident, and how she must take control of her life.
After winding our way through Britney’s twisted mind, it seems that we may never get back out, until, going into the finale, Borghesi as the moderator tells Britney “may the world of awkwardly inserted dance numbers show you the way to your dreams” which pretty much says it all. From there we have a “Chorus Line” shout out finale, splashed with formal pink and black costumes, this time reaching a satisfying Broadway musical conclusion.
This is an ensemble piece, centering around Britney certainly, but all six cast members are engaging, and work well together. The script and lyrics are clever, taking already ludicrous situations and emphasizing select bits for humorous effect. Being a “retro” setting, a center screen is used to intersperse film segments of the young Britney, which in this story adds a nice flavor that wouldn’t work nearly as well if Bell weren’t so physically similar to the adult Britney.
There were a few technical difficulties primarily dealing with sound the night this reviewer saw the show. Barry’s microphone kept cutting out, and before the show, there were a few dicey moments when the sound engineer was testing speaker levels dealing with some serious sound imbalances.
The other notable faux pas was a minor costume malfunction that only added to the inherent humor as Bell adapted nicely to a kamikaze wig at one point.
“Becoming Britney” is an entertaining 90 minute spoof done without an intermission. Be forewarned though, it’s loud, so those with sensitive hearing should be armed with earplugs.
Where: Retro Dome, 1694 Saratoga Avenue, San Jose, CA.
When: Continues through 11 March with a possible extension through 1 April if warranted by audience response with shows Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 2PM.
Rating: PG for some adult language and sexual content.
Photo supplied courtesy of Guggenheim Entertainment.