Thursday, 7 September 2017

Britney Spears: The Cabaret @ The Other Palace

Britney Spears: The Cabaret @ The Other Palace

Britney Spears has become the popstar we love to ridicule, from her attempts at singing live and preference for lip synching, to the countless memes, parody performances, and misguided laughter at her shaved head episode. We remember fondly the songs, videos and performances, but she’s an easy target we can’t help but poke fun at – in loving jest of course.

Australian actress Christie Whelan Browne encapsulates all of this brilliantly with her irreverent take on the singer in Britney Spears: The Cabaret, written and directed by Dean Bryant. Through song and monologue she takes us through Spears’ life: growing up a child star, rising to fame, her struggles with relationships, and learning to deal with the pressures of press and fan attention. It’s all done with tongue firmly in cheek, Whelan Browne’s Spears a ditzy and crude star with a filthy mouth, who’s not the sharpest of people but sure as hell knows how to deliver a song. Her stories are hilarious, touching on various scandals in Spears’ career to offer an amusing and bawdy ‘honest’ portrayal of what really happened behind the scenes.

What’s particularly arresting, however, is actually how good Spears’ music is. We all know the catchy hooks, the dance routines and the sing-along choruses, but in the context of the show, her songs taken on lyrical depth – partly down to the new arrangements from pianist and musical director Mathew Frank. I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman becomes a musical theatre ballad about Spears’ struggles with motherhood; Toxic a jazzy ode to sex with Justin Timberlake; and darkest of all, I’m A Slave 4 U becomes a tap routine performed by an overtly sexual yet utterly na├»ve child Britney. It brings a neat twist on familiar songs for a more theatrical and engaging take.

And Whelan Browne sings them all impeccably. At times she mimics the singer’s intonation and inflections for comic effect – her “oohs” and “babys” are almost as memorable as Michael Jackson’s “hee hees” and “chamones” – but for the most part this isn’t an impersonation. Whelan Browne plays Spears as a character with a squeaky, drawling voice, but her own vocal technique and power remain intact.

There’s a running joke, for the musical theatre nerds, that Liza Minnelli helped Spears in creating this cabaret, and her advice was to leave the audience on a high. Yet the show’s main mission is to depict Spears as a tragic heroine, providing a character arc that draws us into the woman behind the songs, a gullible, fragile woman in need of guidance and support. In the process, the light-hearted humour of the opening soon changes to melancholy with a string of lengthy ballads that leaves the audience on a downer – in particular the encore of Everytime, though beautifully sung. The balance between humour and sincerity might be lop-sided, but this cabaret remains a hit thanks to Whelan Browne’s engaging and likeable performance.

4/5

Watch: Britney Spears: The Cabaret runs at The Other Palace until 9th September.

Britney Spears: The Cabaret @ The Other Palace
Top photo: John Tsiavis
Bottom photo: Jeeves