It’s Britney, bitch! (sort of) in this funny, surprisingly moving cabaret tribute to the pop star
Britney Jean Spears: a living reminder of how fickle fame can be; a pop princess on a downward trajectory at the grand old age of 35. The life story of America’s sweetheart-gone-bad-gone-good-again has been crying out for the Hollywood blockbuster treatment (‘Crossroads’ didn’t even come close). But this cabaret send-up of the starlet featuring all her hits delivers as much as that video for ‘…Baby One More Time’. Watching ‘Britney Spears: The Cabaret’ – which has arrived at The Other Palace following a very successful stint in Australia – you’re reminded of the tragic highs and lows that have fuelled the tabloids for nearly 20 years.
Aussie bombshell Christie Whelan Browne delivers the troubled tale in a Southern drawl and pairs airhead levity with Spears’s signature vocal acrobatics. Her performance is pitch-perfect and she plays the rabbit-in-the-headlights, sadness-in-her-eyes charm of Britters to full effect. Some of the jokes are good simply because they’re so obvious, set to the tinkling of the ivories and with the occasional jazz hand.
And oh, the songs! These hits deserve to be sung like this (sorry, Spears). In the context of a one-woman show, the surprisingly rich lyrics take on new meaning: ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ is a ditty about a child star forced to twirl the baton in pageants; ‘Toxic’ is now a sultry portrayal of the raging teenage hormones a pube-headed, boyband-fronting Justin Timberlake stirred up; ‘Womaniser’ gets to be a rage-filled shout-out to the ex who took custody of her two children.
But it’s the tender soliloquies that are more surprising than that time Britney shaved her head. One particular monologue on the resonance of celebrity deaths brought 2016 flooding back. But every time it goes in deep, Whelan Browne delivers a side-splitting one-liner to bring you right back. Her Britney is fragile and fateful and totally not that innocent. Like the car crash of the pop star’s personal life played out for the tabloids, you won’t be able to take your eyes off her.