Britney Spears: The Cabaret

Britney Spears: The Cabaret

Brisbane Powerhouse

08.02.12 – 12.02.12

Christie Whelan is a goddess. She’s the girl-next-door goddess and, as Britney Spears, she is everything we recognise in the pap’s (that’s paparazzi’s) portrayal of the poor girl who did it again…oops.

Britney’s journey has been a public one but in Dean Bryant’s brilliant comi-tragedy cabaret, with musical arrangements by Matthew Frank, Whelan lets us into the private world of the pop star. It’s imagined, though the anecdotes are mostly true versions of every situation we’ve ever seen plastered across the print media and shared across social media – and the truth hurts.

This is a role that fits Whelan as well as her tank bandage LBD (very Herve Leger). With spray-tanned legs up to HERE and her shiny silvery-pink nails and blonde, blow-dried hair, Whelan looks and sounds enough like Spears for us to suspend disbelief.

She isn’t trying to look just like Britney and she isn’t trying to sound just like Britney but, just as any A-class actress can do, she’s able to convince us that she IS, just for an hour, Britney Spears. The mannerisms are unstudied and real, the movement is the character’s show of bravado constantly foiled by faltering self-confidence. This Britney is more real than the real Britney. This is the Britney Spears who stumbles – even in the spotlight – and is okay to talk about it barefoot.

The creative team behind Britney Spears: The Cabaret could be onto something. There is a new genre here, not only a reinvention of cabaret during massive cabaret resurgence but also a fresh approach to telling the story – real or imagined – behind the star. Imagine Christina: The Cabaret, Robbie Williams: The Cabaret, Lady GaGa: The Cabaret. What about Whitney: The Cabaret? Too soon? The format is deftly crafted cabaret and it has a sizable audience.

The real tragedy of Britney’s story is that her original vulnerability, her genuine innocence, was so early questioned and wrapped clumsily in tabloid pages for sale to the masses. News today, trash tomorrow. We are drawn into Britney’s journey because we are so familiar with it; not through our own similar experiences (though I can’t speak for everyone) but through the unforgiving eyes of the media. We feel like we know her, we feel comfortable judging her and now we feel compelled to join her for what we know will be a tumultuous ride. We almost feel guilty that this total train wreck of a life is a source of amusement and entertainment. And yet we continue to read about it, talk about it, laugh about it, tweet about it. We feel some sort of despair, some strange pity, for a creature made entirely by the media. It’s not a circus in which Britney stars but a freak show.

The pain, the terror and later, the shame, is almost tangible; the audiences’ laughter reflecting our discomfort with the bizarre truth, rather than hilarity at the situation (you can’t laugh at that)! The tales are told and the songs are sung as if through the eyes of an older, wiser Britney to the eight, ten, sixteen, twenty year old girl. Dear Me. Dear Sixteen year old me…

Whelan has returned to this role after stepping off the STC stage as Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest. Before that, she was the roller-skating star of the short-lived Xanadu. She says that performing cabaret is a stepping-stone and she feels that vocally, this is her most comfortable gig to date. Little wonder, with arrangements written for her, by talented composer and accompanist, Matthew Frank. Whelan’s talent is such that she sings Britney’s hits better than Britney does. Even Britney’s worst efforts, live and sweaty, sans auto-tune, are made bearable – and absolutely hysterical – in Whelan’s hands.

Whelan scintillates, Michelle Pfeiffer Fabulous Baker Boys style, singing Toxic on the piano top. Slave to You becomes a disturbing pageant number, complete with baton twirling, tapping and the biggest little Miss America smile we’ve seen since JonBenet Ramsey’s and it changes the entire tone of the show, setting a much darker course. We’ve had dark moments before this point but all of a sudden, Bryant’s story takes us down into the grim, dark depths of Hollywood childhood. We’re in subterranean levels now and the edges are sharper. It’s Whelan’s razor-sharp rendition of Womaniser that is testament to her empathy and skill as a performer. Between Brisbane and Sydney appearances, Whelan won over a whole new audience, gifting viewers of Channel Ten’s The Circle with the final number of the show, Baby One More Time.

Britney Spears: The Cabaret, much like the real story, doesn’t have a happy ending, it just has an ending for now.

And since this act has left town, I can only advise that, in future, you see anything that any of these artists have touched! It’s guaranteed quality.

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