Becoming Britney has pop

Clinton Stark
November 1, 2010

Maybe the Center REP Theatre is on to something. Take one washed up pop princess, add some clever musical numbers and a few jabs at L.A. celebrity culture and even Broadway, et voila, the result: an entertaining, often hysterical, 90-minutes of theater. Becoming Britney does exactly that, and admittedly exceeded my expectations on all counts. Part parody, part homage, the musical is never (overly) condescending or judgmental, which even adds a layer of, dare I suggest, sweetness.

I still might not be sure (or really even care) why Britney Spears ended up in rehab with a bald head, but it sure was fun going on this joyous, trailer-trash loving journey.

Based on an idea by lead performer Molly Bell (along with Daya Curley), Becoming Britney debuted earlier this year at the New York Fringe Festival, and received strong reviews. And it all begins in rehab.

The show opens at “Promises, Promises,” ostensibly based on the infamous celebrity rehab center in Malibu. Their tag line: “PR Fixery and Spirit Spa” From there, Britney is welcomed by a rag-tag group all with their own stories. Soon, Britney tells them hers, and sings, dances and reminisces about the life of a pop princess. Growing up in Louisiana where “pageants are the Super Bowls of the south” she was encouraged to perform at a young age.

Cameos are here from all our favorite ex’s including Justin Timberlake, and K-Fed (the white rapper that can’t rap or dance). Even Britney’s sister Jamie Lynn makes a minor appearance in an “Intervention-ish” that seems more about commercial endorsement than confrontation and recovery. Every young girl’s role models Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan take some time out of their community service schedule to hang for a L.A. disco dancin’ clubbin’ rubbin’ night on the town.

“Musicals are an inherently ridiculous art form.”

Short skits are intermixed with high energy, well-choreographed musical numbers to create a montage of Spears’ rollercoaster career and personal life. A small projection screen at the center of the simple stage provides video footage, backstory, and other effects that enhance our descent into pop culture hell: “I could no longer walk into a gas station bathroom without my shoes on.”

At the center of the circus, of course, is Brit — the strength of the performance can make or break the whole kit and kaboodle. Fortunately, Molly Bell is outright fabulous. She can sing, she can dance, she can act. Best of all she can walk the fine line between self-mockery and innocent affectation with the best of them. Her performance is highly likable and creates a Britney that we want to cheer for in spite of her nauseating and mind-numbing dopiness. This coming from a guy who thinks Britney Spears was perhaps the biggest single affront to the entire music industry of the last 50 years (with the possible exception of Jessica and Ashlee Simpson); so don’t put too much stock in my commentary — I’ve been known to spin my fair share of Robbie Williams and Duran Duran.

The supporting cast is also strong, and works extremely well together. It helps I’m sure that they’re (at least appearing to be) having a lot of fun performing. Multi-talented Amanda Folena has several shining moments, first as a moderator, then as Brit’s mother, a re-hab counselor and even an on-air reporter. Her full, rich, slightly gospel voice helps boost several of the musical numbers.

I don’t think I will ever see a hospital delivery scene (“Push It Out”) that tops the one in Becoming Britney. It’s just one of several moments that had me still smiling and laughing the day after the show.

Clearly I’m no fan of Bit-Bit, but I thoroughly enjoyed this production. Despite its trailer trash subject matter, Becoming Britney manages to elevate itself above both standard musical satire and pop culture snark.

Becoming Britney - the bouyant little musical

Robert Hurwitt
November 2, 2010

Of course it begins in rehab. Love her or loathe her, admire, pity or try to ignore her, it's almost impossible to be sentient in America without knowing that much about Britney Spears. What's surprising about Becoming Britney, the buoyant little musical that opened Saturday at Center Repertory Company, is how cluelessly likable the tabloid-fodder celeb turns out to be.

Subtitled "A Snarky Musical Adventure," Britney premiered last year at the New York International Fringe Festival, earning star, co-author, composer-lyricist and costume designer Molly Bell an outstanding actor award.

It's easy to see why. Bell's high-energy song-and-dance tribute-portrait of Spears - half satiric, half affectionate and all brightly tuneful - is unerringly winning.

She's also a veteran Bay Area performer - at TheatreWorks, San Jose Rep and elsewhere - as is director, co-author and composer-lyricist Daya Curley (better known by her former first name, David). So, for that matter, is the show's Justin Timberlake and Kevin Federline, Keith Pinto of the hip-hop crew Felonious.

A small musical with a big heart but a lightweight book, the West Coast premiere of "Britney" fits well into the Lesher Center's small, black-box space, where it's opening Center Rep's two-show, second-stage Off Center season. It may be that the less you know about Spears the better. Accompanied by deft musical director Greg Zema on keyboard, Bell and a five-person chorus deliver the kind of off-beat bio-musical that blithely blends and bends fact and fantasy.

It's the story of a child pageant star driven by an overbearing mother (played by Amanda Folena) into pop megastardom when she really wanted to perform in musicals. Or maybe it's the story of that fantasy, as imagined by Britney and others in the rehab program run by Folena's upbeat moderator.

Set to 15 pop and showbiz songs - most original, with a couple of lip-synced, Spears-influenced dance-pop numbers - Bell switches from child to grown Britney in a rapid succession of eye-candy costumes (yes, there's a glitter-spangled body stocking, which helps cover that underwear incident).

Pinto is outstanding in song-and-dance duets as her troubled love interests Justin and Kevin. Sharp dancer Adam Barry delivers a smooth Mr. Hobojangles turn to Bell's Shirley Temple-ish child Britney. Big-voiced Tielle Baker contributes some of the most impressive vocal turns, and Brittany Ogle is snarky-sweet as rising-star little sister Jamie Lynn.

Mandy Bell and Lisa Navarro's choreography covers the map, from soft-shoe to hip-hop, disco and Busby Berkeley. Curley augments the action with tongue-in-cheek projections.

Mega-stardom doesn't really enter the picture. Nor is Britney an active participant in her career and indiscretions. For the most part, life just happens to her - most comically in "Push It Out" childbirth. But it happens with verve and a blithe spirit.

Center REPertory's Becoming Britney a hilarious romp through pop culture

Pat Craig
November 2, 2010

With all the energy of a case of Red Bull blended with jet fuel and stirred by a tornado, Becoming Britney is a high-powered homage to musical comedy and a well-placed slap at America's newest major religion -- celebrity worship.

Written by Molly Bell and Daya Curley, the New York Fringe Festival hit getting its West Coast premiere at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center features hurricane Bell in the title role and a dynamo supporting cast of five that leaves you breathless with its nonstop singing and dancing that manages to lovingly skewer both pop music and Broadway show tunes delightfully.

Britney (no last name necessary) is a tale of fame gone awry, set in a celebrity rehab center where Paris (Brittany Ogle) and Lindsay (Tielle Baker), and even K-Fed (Keith Pinto) and the kids, show up in cameos. But mainly it's a group of moneyed misfits, just trying to make their celebrity lives whole again and recover from eating disorders, ego disorders or just being jerky.

The program we see is led by a moderator (Amanda Folena), who quickly becomes Britney's mother in a musical role-playing exercise that fills most of the rest of the speedy, silly and funny 80-minute show (the only obvious missing piece is the ending, which cries for snarky, but is sunny instead).

Clients of the center are required to sing their responses to the moderator's questions, but at the start, Britney is so emotionally flummoxed, she can only probe the depths of her soul by lip-syncing. Later on in recovery, she is able to actually sing, after being exposed to show tune therapy -- because, as everyone who has seen a musical or two can tell you, a few show tunes can solve any problem.

Britney, subtitled, "a Snarky Musical Adventure," does get a bit snarky, but mainly with Britney's mom, who emerges as something of a stage mother from hell, who bought a swimming pool with Brit's first big paycheck.

"And I never saw my dog after that," Britney says, adding that mom also made her rehearse long beyond the point where her perky blondness drooped, and threatened her with career failure if she reached for even a small slice of pie.

The show does not feature Spears songs, but serves up both pop songs in the Britney style -- "Millionaire Whore" -- and Broadway homage numbers, which are hilarious and delivered with the sort of self-referential humor that will delight musical comedy fans.

There is a dream ballet number, somewhat similar to those in Oklahoma and Carousel, but the most successful is a charming parody of "N.Y.C." from Annie, performed when Britney reaches the Big Apple and revels in the charm and debauchery of the town, including a visit by Mr. Hobojangles (Adam Barry).

The supporting cast -- Ogle, Baker, Barry and Pinto -- assume a variety of characters and throughout the show is wildly flexible and bursting with talent. Music is provided by musical director Greg Zema, who also becomes a character in the show from time to time.


An energy-driven production of Becoming Britney

Richard Connema
November 30, 2010

Center Repertory Company recently presented a brightly energetic satire about Britney Spears, aptly called Becoming Britney. This is the brainchild of Molly Bell and Daya Curley that played at The New York International Fringe Festival in August 2009. This is their first production since that event in The Big Apple.

I have to agree with NYTheatre.com that the show "oozes sass." Becoming Britney is a high-octane musical full of upbeat songs performed by six high-octane dancers and singers, a one-hour and twenty-minute musical without intermission. It's part satire and part affectionate tribute to the tabloid celebrity.

Becoming Britney, subtitled "A Snarky Musical Adventure," takes place in a celebrity rehab center where Paris (Brittany Ogle), Lindsay (Tielle Baker) and K-Fed (Keith Pinto) are a group of oddballs recovering from all sorts of things, such as eating disorders, ego problems and just being erratic. Amanda Folena is the moderator of the group. This is all in the mind of Britney.

The supporting cast take on various characters in Britney's life. Keith Pinto was dazzling playing Britney's love interests Justin and Kevin. His song and dance duets were terrific—he knows how to belt out a song. Tielle Baker was captivating as the neighbor lady and showed an exciting voice in her numbers. Brittany Ogle rocked as Britney's smart-alecky younger sister who also wants to shine in the music world. Amanda Folena gave an absorbing performance as Britney's pushy mother and the narrator of the musical. Adam Berry delivered a charming Mr. Hobojangles to Molly Bell's Shirley Temple type child in one musical segment.

Molly Bell gave a dynamic performance as Britney. She switched from child to women through the fast-paced direction of Daya Curley. She sometimes lip-synced Britney's well known songs but was breathtaking when she used her own vocal cords and danced up a storm in many of the scenes.

Becoming Britney has some great numbers, especially one about New York City that is reminiscent of "N.Y.C." from Annie. There is even a dream ballet that reminded me of Oklahoma! and Carousel. Mandy Bell and Lisa Navarro's choreography was power driven, running from hip-hop to disco and I even saw a little Busby Berkeley in the dance numbers.

Projections by Daya Curley enhanced the action of this fast-paced, all singing and dancing musical. Music was provided by musical director Greg Zema. He was a great asset to the musical.