At The Retro Dome in Campbell
Last Friday night I was lucky enough to be invited to see “Becoming Britney”, an award winning live show now playing at The Retro Dome. Billed as “a snarky new musical”, that’s exactly what I expected: Lots of snark, heavy on the snark, and more and more snark, plus some music and dancing. What I got instead was something much more: more touching, more thought-provoking, and a little, tiny little bit sad. And yet also Fantastic and Fun!
This is a musical story that begins in rehab immediately after Britney Spears has infamously shaved her head. From there we are taken back to several important points in Britney’s life which had an impact or led her in some way to the woman who most people just don’t understand any more. Because seriously, what happened to her? I remember being mesmerized the first time I saw her do that slow dip over the chair in the “Crazy” video and thinking “that girl knows exactly what she’s doing, and she’s going to be a star.”
I’m not a super fan of her music by any means, but you can’t deny she’s put out some amazing dance music and the girl had an incredible body when she was young (But didn’t we all?). And so when she started going off the deep end I was fascinated. OK, I’ll admit I was a tiny bit obsessed by her shenanigans. Was she crazy? Drugged? Drunk? Insane? Or just a bad person and mother? I didn’t know, and I still am not sure what happened to her.
And so while I know that the actual story has to be an incredibly sad one, one that shouldn’t be laughed at, comedy is often about the snark and laughing at pop culture, and there is no better current pop icon ready for snark than Ms. Spears.
Wow, what a great show. The book, music and lyrics were written by Molly Bell and Daya Curley, and it is Ms. Bell who plays Britney in the show. For a mid-level budget, the show is very entertaining, and Ms. Bell really stands out in the show. She plays Britney as everything from a rising child star to an uncertain rehab patient, from a young girl eager to please her mother to a woman who realizes she’s being used and abused, chewed and spit out by everyone around her.
One of the most telling moments of Britney’s psyche was when she and Kevin sing “The Love of My Life (So Far)” and end the song with Brit jumping into Kevin’s arms with the biggest, happiest smile on her face. And in that moment you could see that somehow this girl had stopped growing mentally and emotionally somewhere between age 12 and 14. Who else but a very young teenage girl would think Mr. Federline was an amazing catch? But the look on Molly Bell’s face said it all: This was something Britney had for herself, someone who she thought loved her back in return just for herself.
Molly Bell as Britney
And that’s when the show got sad for me, even as I laughed and laughed through the rest of it. “Push It Out”, a song about Britney giving birth, was one of the outstanding highlights of the show and had us all in hysterics. But “Cross That Line”, where Britney has to make a very important decision… a decision about her sanity, brought tears to my eyes even as I was still laughing. The show called “Becoming Britney” is not about how to become a mega-rich, Cheeto and Red Bull loving, mentally incompetent former child star… It’s about how one innocent girl with big dreams had to find a way to grow up on her own, claim a life for herself, and become… grown up Britney. In whatever way she can find her own happiness.
The show is not high budget but it is filled with talent and promising young performers. Leanne Borghesi, as both Mama Spears and the Rehab Monitor, has an outstanding voice and was a standout in the production. Molly Bell, who arguably IS the show, is going to have a great career ahead of her. There were some sound troubles on opening night, but the cast handled them well. A glaring pink stage and set was perfect, and the costumes were overall adorable and/or hilarious.
I don’t think the show is meant to be completely accurate, as I believe in real life Mama Spears was more “flawed mother” than the Dina Lohan-esque stage-mother portrayed in the show, but overall they tell an outstanding story of a young girl who really did lose her entire childhood even if she may have once really wanted what she was working for. A woman who was so chewed up by her profession that insanity was the best choice for her. It’s not a depressing show, don’t get me wrong, and there is almost constant laughter. But it gives you things to think about as you’re laughing like crazy, and loving and missing that sweet, talented young girl we all used to know.
I think the show is probably geared more to fans of Britney Spears, or fans of celebrity gossip or the industry. I hope this gives them enough of an audience to fill the theater for the entire run. The Retro Dome is a fantastic venue for small live shows like this, and it was filled on opening night. If you’re a fan of Britney Spears, a lover of pop music, or in any way interested in the pop genre, this is a can’t miss show.
Through March 11
The Retro Dome
1694 Saratoga Avenue, San Jose
Plenty of free parking
90 minutes, no intermission