nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
August 12, 2008
If you've even glanced at the headline of a newspaper or the cover of a glossy magazine in the last ten years, the contents of Endless Supply Productions' musical Becoming Britney will come as no surprise, even in the midst of the liberties the show takes with the context.
A bald Britney Spears shows up at a rehabilitation center called "Promises, Promises," which bills itself as a "PR fixery and Spirit Spa." It is a spa that caters to the young, the beautiful, and the mildly troubled. The group sessions, all conducted in song, are guided by a woman called "The Moderator" who in true Oprah fashion (or is it Kabbalah? Scientology?) dispenses pop culture platitudes designed to lead these lost souls on the path toward personal contentment. At her first appearance, Britney is asked to recount her tale.
It's all there: her humble beginnings, growing up poor under the stern rule of a domineering mother; the chastity of her Mouseketeer years (keep an ear out for an invisible Christina Aguilera cameo); her sudden breakout into international stardom; her relationship and public breakup with Justin Timberlake; her courtship and eventual marriage to Kevin Federline ("You and I will fly on gobstopper wings!"); the birth of her two children; the dissolution of her marriage and her pantyless descent into the barber's chair.
It's a production ripped straight from the headlines, brought to life by the wit of Molly Bell and Daya Curley—who wrote the book, music and lyrics—and the virtuosity of its phenomenally talented cast, who dig into their multiple roles with smarts and vitality. The ensemble plays well together, shifting effortlessly from role to role. Director Daya Curley elicits fine performances from all involved: Riette Burdicks plays Britney's mother as a gum-chewing hurricane; Keith Pinto endows K-Fed with a whimsy Mr. Federline would be wise to take note of; Sean Grady morphs nicely from character to character, and his brief stint as a homeless man actually made me queasy; someone should give Carrie Madsen a starring role in her own sitcom tout de suite; Alison Ewing dazzles in everything she does; and Molly Bell forgoes the flattery of imitation and creates a Britney as a force of nature, a dim queen of all she surveys who thrives on the surety of her fame. In a clever bit of staging, Bell lip-syncs all of Britney's recorded "hits" (Becoming Britney contains 13 original songs—the "hits" are interpretations) but don't be fooled. Molly Bell's got a strong set of pipes. She can also dance. And act up a storm. She commands the stage.
Becoming Britney bills itself as a "snarky musical adventure" and I have to disagree. It's a production that oozes sass but lacks bite. It says nothing about the sensation of her fame, offers little insight into the forces that guide her popularity, and the characters sometimes lack dimension and drive. It's an enjoyable interpretation of her life as distilled through a conventional musical form, but to achieve a level of snark, it needs to sharpen its teeth.
From the program notes, I gathered that it is a piece that has developed over time and its inclusion in the New York International Fringe Festival marks it as a work in progress. If so, I look forward to seeing what it becomes.