BWW Reviews: More Paean Than Parody in BRITNEY SPEARS: THE CABARET in Australia
Now playing: Melbourne. Coming to Brisbane and Sydney - At first glance, Christie Whelan-Browne comes off as more Heidi Klum than Britney Spears. In her short black dress, the leggy Australian actress and singer looks closer to an off-duty supermodel than the diminutive pop princess who lends her name and fame to BRITNEY SPEARS: THE CABARET.
But something happens, and quickly. From her pitch-perfect Southern accent, to the self-conscious, slightly incredulous conversation, and the little gestures made to match, Whelan-Browne soon becomes Britney Spears. At first this embodiment comes as caricature, a cute, slightly daffy joke-Britney to warm up the audience. But then comes something closer to the truth - Spears portrayed as a vulnerable, confused young woman pushing at the seams of her own successful, but restrictive life.
Full kudos here to writer Dean Bryant for knowing how to get the audience on Britney's side. Make them laugh first, highlight the ridiculousness and excesses of celebrity life - and once the audience has dropped their guard, hit them with the truth. Remind them that most humour dances at the edge of sadness, tips over into it at times. When chronicling the life and music of Britney Jean Spears, even under the guise of Britney-does-Cabaret, you can't make fun too long. There's something a little heartbreaking about the girl-next-door who never really was, about the teenage superstar who was pushed and pulled by her parents, sold out by her lovers (JT!), and eventually tipped over the edge, herself.
The show is still funny of course, and some of the re-imagined songs are strikingly entertaining. Under the musical direction of Mathew Frank, Whelan-Browne lets Britney's songs reveal the kind of telling stories often lost within their pop/heavily auto-tuned original versions. Familiar works, from Out From Under, to Toxic to Lucky are suddenly achingly autobiographical in content. The standout example is Baby One More Time, used to close the show. This was Spears' first ever hit, positioned at the time as an energetic, back-for-more triibute to love. Now, it seems a weary, here-we-go-again lament to innocence lost, and what can go wrong when a young woman becomes too famous, too needed, and in some ways no longer needed at all.
It is to the credit of Whelan-Browne, Bryant and Frank that ultimately, BRITNEY SPEARS: THE CABARET is more paean than parody. Together, they make just enough fun and no more, entertaining their audience with an affectionate, insightful look into one of the biggest pop culture icons of our time.
Luckiest Productions Presents
BRITNEY SPEARS: THE CABARET
Starring Christie Whelan-Browne
Chapel Off Chapel, Melbourne: 3 July - 10 August
Brisbane Powerhouse: 13 - 17 August
Hayes Theatre Co., Sydney: 20 August - 7 September