Theatre Review: “Becoming Britney” @ Center Rep, 10/30/10

Drowning in sass, Becoming Britney at Center Rep is a 90-minute whirlwind adventure that focuses in on Britney Spears’ life when she checks herself into rehab after her head-shaving debacle in 2007. Most of the main material stems from Spear’s life circa 2004-2007, when she was out-of-control and constantly in the media and tabloids. The material, written by Molly Bell and Daya Curley, feels dated since Britney Spears has come back on top and isn’t seen as a tragic mess anymore. That image has been graciously taken over by Lindsay Lohan these days. In December 2008, Spears’ released Circus and had her first #1 hit, “Womanizer” since her first #1 hit back in 1999, “…Baby One More Time”. Spears is back on top and even working on her seventh studio album, hardly the mess that she’s protrayed in Becoming Britney.

As a huge Britney Spears fan (since 1999), I’ve followed her career’s ups and downs and seen her perform live in her spectacular arena concerts three times and have bought every single, album and video there is. I’m also intimately familiar with her most of her choreography as I think I learned the entire dance to “Crazy” and “…Baby One More Time” back in my college days. I think you’d call me a “super fan”. The thought of combining my love of musical theatre with pop princess, Britney Spears, is probably one of the best mash-up ideas since Spears was featured on “Glee”. Ideally, it’s a perfect mix!

Over the last decade, Spears has contributed enough to pop culture that you could easily fill a 90-minute production with ample material to pull from. For some reason Bell and Curley continually used musical theatre references over Spears. They spoofed “N-Y-C” from the musical, Annie, mentioned a line from Miss Saigon and even had a Golden-Age musical duet between K-Fed and Spears, “The Love of My Life (So Far)”. (There was even a pax-de-deux that they performed.) That wasn’t all – several of the songs reached to musical theatre roots instead of mocking Britney Spears’ music.

The songs that mocked Spears’ were the best – “Millionaire Whore”, “Push it Out” (performed in a Toxic-esque nude, bejeweled bodysuit) and “Becoming Britney”. It felt that the writers, Bell and Curley, were more comfortable spoofing musical theatre then Britney Spears, as it became widely apparent in the “I Want Song” – when Bell’s choreographed dance break consisted of musical theatre choreography standards like step ball-chains and chassés instead of signature Britney Spears’ dance moves. It felt out-of-place and a bit forced instead of witty and charming.

Overall, the choreography, by Mandy Bell & Lisa Navarro, was intricate and intense, and performed so energetically that I wanted to get up and dance myself. The last ten minutes of the production was almost non-stop dancing, starting from the “dream ballet” where they are trying to get Ms. Spears to “cross the line” and become a Broadway star. (To be honest, I’m still a little confused over the ending.) Personally, I wanted to see less “So You Think You Can Dance” and more spoof on Spears’ choreography with the “V” formation and less intricate, but more stylized movements. (Check out Britney Spears’ dance moves in “Sometimes” or “(You Drive Me) Crazy” or later in her career, “Me Against the Music” to see what I’m referencing to.) For only two weeks of rehearsal, it was more than fantastic.

The best part of this production is the performers. The cast is top-notch. All of them are triple-threats – great actors, dancers and singers. In the tiny, 100-seat theatre, everything is exposed and luckily for this cast, it’s a great thing. I could hear every note, see every dance step and understand every word. Molly Bell (Britney Spears) is obviously very talented. She sings, dances and acts the hell out of the material — the only trouble being that she continually shows off her belt and higher range throughout many of the songs. Ms. Spears is obviously an alto and if she does, in fact, go higher than an A or B, she quickly jumps into her head voice. (Most easily heard in Spears’ hit single, “Toxic“.) Spears has left all of the belting to Christina Aguilera and so unfortunately Bell’s singing and music only captured the true essence of Britney’s signature singing style every once in awhile.

Amanda Folena shines as the moderator of the “Promises Promises” rehab center. Her character is perfect and creates a sense that we’re all a part of Spears’ rehabilitation. Her vocals throughout were fantastic. Adam Barry (Man 1) is featured throughout and his ease around the choreography was instantly noticeable. He’s obviously got mad skills when it comes to hip-hop dancing. His tenor vocals were a fantastic addition when the musical arrangements, by Matt Hohensee, added harmonies in several of the songs.

Tielle Baker’s (Woman 2) monologue as one of Britney Spears’ old neighbors from her hometown, Kentwood, Louisiana was hi-lar-ious. I look forward to seeing Baker on stage again (a true highlight in this production). My favorite parts that Brittany Ogle (who we last saw in Center Rep’s production of She Loves Me) played was Lindsay Lohan in the swingin’ jive number, “Out of Control” and Britney Spears younger sister, Jamie Lynn Spears. Keith Pinto’s (K-Fed, Man 2) gangsta K-Fed was almost perfect, but I wanted K-Fed’s ridiculous rapping to be featured since Pinto’s bio focuses on the fact he is a bonafide rapper in his hip-hop crew, Felonious.Why not showcase this (it seems to be the perfect fit)!

Overall, the material focuses on Britney Spears as a tragic mess and I think that’s the biggest misstep. While all of Spears’ antics during 2004-2007 were tragic and often hilarious (and a perfect set-up for a musical), there’s so much more to her career and her contribution to popular culture than that, especially since she has overcome the slandering tabloids and K-Fed divorce since Becoming Britney debuted at the New York Fringe Festival in 2008. I wanted to laugh at Spears’ blunders, but also revere her at the same time and the latter never really happened. While the cast was strong, the material didn’t shine as much as I had hoped for.

Becoming Britney has extended its original run to November 21st.

Get tickets here.

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