Full and frank disclosure: I am an unashamed Britney fan. Ever since she shimmied her way on to MTV in all her Lolita-esque glory, I have followed her career with joy and horror, from pop culture defining highs to head-shaving, umbrella-bashing lows. So this show, a Britney cabaret revue which parodies and pays homage to the woman herself, is tailor-made for my generation – those that still have affection for the pop starlet, but are old enough not to take personal offence at the inevitable jibes thrown at our teen idol.
Launched in Australia in 2009, the cabaret is an autobiographical parody of Britney’s career to date, encompassing her child star status, pop domination, failed relationships and the inevitable breakdown. Throughout the show, Christie Wheelan Brown sends up Britney as a brain-dead air-head, who makes the likes of Paris Hilton seem like a paid-up Mensa member.
The jokes come thick and fast and none of Britney’s peers are safe. Madonna, Justin Timberlake and, especially, Christina Aguilera take a bashing. The rest of the supporting players in Britney’s life are also painted in broad brushstrokes – the ruthless stage mother, controlling and dominant father.
Christie is an engaging and fearless performer and fully immerses herself in the role. She also sounds good and makes the wise choice of mainly singing in her natural voice, rather than mimicking Britney. She certainly makes the most of the material which, although peppered with a few genuine laughs, isn’t particularly imaginative.
The smartest element of the revue is how the singer’s hits are used to drive the story. Overprotected, with lines such as “I’ll tell them what I like, what I want, what I don’t. But every time I do I stand corrected” suddenly feels surprisingly poignant. And I’m a Slave 4 U, performed by a baton-twirling Britney as part of a child pageant, is a creepy stroke of genius. The singer’s vocal quirks and studio stylings also get a laugh as Christine does her best vocoder impressions.
After the set-up, things become a little darker. The shift in tone doesn’t quite work. The balance between comedy and tragedy is a difficult one – and a little off-kilter here. The social commentary on celebrity culture may have felt fresh in 2009, but is played out in 2017.
The show in its current form works well for the casual fan as a diverting celebration and send-up of Ms Spears. But with a little polish, Britney Spears: The Cabaret could become something of a cult hit.
Cast: Christie Wheelan Brown Writer/Director: Dean Bryant Musical Director: Matthew Frank Duration: 70 mins Theatre: The Other Palace Dates: 5th to 9th September 2017