Theatre Review: Becoming Britney at the Retro Dome, 3/2/2012

by Joel Edelman on March 2, 2012

Everyone’s favorite Spinning Platters backup writer, I was summoned to cover an event that had conveniently piqued my interest: Becoming Britney. A show written in the space between the tongue and the inner cheek, the only concern was whether it would collapse under the weight of being over the top. Nope.

The Retro Dome is an awesome place. It used to be one of the Century Theaters before Cinemark bought them out. This location was separate from the others, banished to Westgate long, long ago. But now it’s been retrofitted (get it?) and hosts movie classics from Generation X’s heyday. “Hook” happened to be playing in the movie wing. But it was the stage that brought me this time around.

Becoming Britney sounds like it should be just a sketch, with a few cheap gags and perhaps a pun or two. So how did this turn into a 90-minute never-will-be-on-Broadway production? By using the fourth wall as the cornerstone of a subplot about how musicals work, along with nearly 20 original numbers. Score!

This subplot became glaringly obvious with the opening number, “The Opening Number.” But author and star Molly Bell didn’t take the easy way out. The song and dance stood on their own, even if the jokes were easy enough to point out. The other clever number was “My I Want Song.” Besides these silly titles, there were several other references to musical plot devices, some subtle enough to make you feel special if you caught them.

Set in 2007, right after Britney shaved her head, we get the theatre equivalent of a biopic in some sense, with staged clips of Britney throughout her career leading up to this day when she meets fellow people in need of group therapy. The only slow scene of the performance, we predictably get a scene exclusive with each cast member so we know who the company comprises. When this performance goes to Vegas and they have to cut down to 70 minutes, this will be what goes.

The acting was all very good. Replace the inconsistent Adam Theodore Barry with someone like Richard Michael Alvarez, and the ensemble would be picture perfect. Lizzie O’Hara portrayed all of her characters perfectly, a challenge considering how different they all were, and she even managed to make a bulimia joke funny. Good for her.

Keith Pinto was a scene stealer as K-Fed. His first scene where he performs with Bell is the one to use when pitching the traveling show version of Becoming Britney. Pinto also portrays Justin Timberlake, which makes sense to me because Justin Timberlake stole the show in “Bad Teacher.” And if you thought that segue was forced, you should have seen the performers make fun of bad segues when they did the same bit during the show. Priceless.

Besides portraying the moderator of the support group, Leanne Borghesi also played Mama, a representation of Lynne Irene Spears. In many ways she brought the cast together, especially on songs such as “Stop It!” and “Dream Ballet.”

Finally, I could never forgive myself for not mentioning Danelle Medeiros’ pipes. All four women in the company could sing, but Medeiros led the way. And she was at her best with Bell and O’Hara as they portrayed Paris, Britney, and Lindsay, respectively, in “Out of Control.” This was much better than the She Wants Revenge song.

It was obvious to me that Bell grew up a huge Britney fan, and what might have started out as fanfic written in a college composition notebook has since ended up as perhaps what her ultimate fantasy was: portraying Britney on stage. It’s quite obvious in the quality of writing the passion Bell has about Britney and her ups and downs.

This presentation was half Grease, half Avenue Q, with a sprinkling of The Muppets Take Manhattan. And although this performance works best for true Britney fans — the pokes are out of love and never malicious — any veteran theatre-goer will appreciate the references to formulaic musicals. Have such references been done before? Perhaps. But never with Britney in tow!

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