Becoming Britney: Spears' life inspires musical

Danielle Samaniego
October 28, 2010

It's hard to imagine anyone beyond the creators of Glee finding inspiration in Britney Spears.

But as Molly Bell and Daya Curley will tell you, sometimes rock-bottom moments can inspire as much as a success story - that and Bell's ability to move like Spears.

"Our original idea was a sketch comedy type show, and my original thought was to do a short on a character like Britney, who is taught how to sing and sort of doing a spoof on My Fair Lady, " said Bell, a Los Altos native. She plays the pop starlet in the show.

"I also happen to be able to dance like Britney Spears. So we thought there was enough of a story there to create a whole show, since at that time she was in the shaving-her-head period," Bell said. That was back in 2007. "We decided to start there and look back at her life through therapy."

What Bell and co-writer/director Curley (who's from Mountain View) discovered is that Spears' childhood easily lent itself to song, spoof and dance with a compassionate undertone. As the story goes, Spears was a former child pageant star that struck it big on "Star Search." That led to her eventual climb and her position as her family's main source of income.

In Becoming Britney, we see Spears reflect on her childhood through musical interludes.

"We did quite a bit of research. People are usually surprised that there's quite a story when it comes to Britney, and the pageant world she lived in for a while," Bell said. "The story is not just a spoof. It really has heart to it. ... It's an interesting story of a young girl sort of saving her family and being the breadwinner."

As the two best friends tell it, Spears was just a great jumping-off point for them to use their theater backgrounds to create their own show, which premiered at New York's Fringe Festival in 2008.

"Britney Spears is the outline, and we use that to pay homage to musical theater," Curley said. "It's very meta-theatrical. It's not a spoof of specific songs - it's a spoof of specific styles."

The creators also call it a "period piece" because it doesn't reflect Spears' current life. And while none of her songs are actually used, expect about 20 percent of Spears-influenced pop jams (lip-synced, no less) and 60 percent musical-theater show tunes backed by a sole piano player.

"It's definitely a comment on pop culture and celebrity culture and parents who push their kids into this world," Curley said. "We tried in some ways to give Britney a comeback with this piece. ... She is our musical-theater heroine - she's not our victim."


Becoming Britney spoofs celebrity culture at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center

Pat Craig
October 27, 2010

As one who teaches song and dance, Molly Bell has noticed a significant change in her pupils. Many seem more interested in becoming famous than developing artistically.

That's no big surprise -- celebrity with no obvious talent seems to have become a national pastime.

And that, in a roundabout way, leads to the story behind Becoming Britney, which Bell wrote with her friend Daya Curley. The musical comedy, which debuted at the New York Fringe Festival, gets its West Coast premiere Oct. 28 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center as part of Center Repertory Company's Off Center Season of edgier plays.

Not that Bell thinks badly of Britney, who Bell insists has some talent beneath all that wretched excess.

"Actually, (the play) has a lot of heart. If it's snarky toward anybody, it's her mother," Bell said. "But what it really talks about is what it's like to be a celebrity."

And it's not all just forgetting your underwear and courting Perez Hilton for kindness. Nope, there's a dark side to it, too. And in Britney's case, it began with Mom and Dad.

When Britney was very young, her mother started entering her in tiny tykes beauty pageants. When her father had his car repossessed the couple discovered there is gold in those talented tots. So Britney was entered in Star Search, which she won, and brought home some cash. Next up was The Mickey Mouse Club, which delivered a regular paycheck. The rest is pop culture history. And it was a lot of pressure for Britney -- head-shaving pressure with the realization so many were depending on her.

"How many people rely on her salary?" said Bell, who has set much of the story in a rehab hospital. "I think after playing her for the past three years, I'm kind of empathetic; I see how she's driven and really responsible for a lot."

"Britney, she said, was probably on the cusp of the whole reality entertainment fad and, as such, really does have talent to go along with the excess.

So Bell tells the story with a lot of empathy, humor and affection for both Britney and musical comedy. In fact, only about 30 percent of the show is pop music. The rest is a homage to musicals, many of which audiences familiar with the genre will recognize as the show unfolds.

"There's a tribute to the dream ballet in Oklahoma, 'New York, New York' from Annie, and other things," she says. "It's really is a lot of fun."

Her show was a hit and she received an award for her work at the New York Fringe Festival. But closer to home, the South Bay resident's run at Center Rep came as something of a fortuitous accident when she submitted an audition video to Center Rep artistic director Michael Butler.

In the reel, which won her a role in the Center Rep production of A Marvelous Party, she was singing songs from Becoming Britney, and an impressed Butler asked her were they were from. That led him to book the show into the Lesher.

"She is a theater Jedi," Butler says. "She sings, acts, dances, all brilliantly. She writes, composes and choreographs, oh, and is funny too -- like Lucille Ball funny. As you can tell, I'm pretty keen on her."

Aside from the upcoming production and New York Fringe stint, Bell has done most of her work in the South Bay. She appeared in Timothy Near's production of"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at San Jose Rep, and is also something of a regular at Theatreworks in Palo Alto, where she played in the Northern California premiere of Bat Boy: The Musical, Merrily We Roll Along, Memphis and Snapshots.

Bell also created the charitable company, "Fabulosity," designed to raise financial aid for those battling cancer by staging concerts and events. One of her productions was the sixth annual Divas For Life, performed at San Jose Rep with a number of Bay Area musical theater actresses.

In addition, Bell teaches singing and dancing in the South Bay, and is at work on her second musical, Ten Minutes.

And that works perfectly for Bell, who has semiretired from performing to take care of her 3-year-old, Ryder, and continue her writing.

And if all goes well?

She hopes to produce Britney in a city for a long run and remain close to home for awhile.