What price fame? In this show it’s the cost of a childhood, the loss of innocence highlighting the manipulations of the media machine and how it portrays and betrays, uses and abuses.
As Kenneth Williams immortally uttered ‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!’ this production addresses the fine line between acclaim and shame and how today’s pin-up is quickly tomorrow’s drop-out.
Following a sell-out run in Australia Britney Spears: The Cabaret is an outstanding and uproarious analysis of the perils of fame, how the ‘toxic’ American Dream’s illusions lead to delusions and mental collapse and how a small-town girl is left bereft in a world of ‘fake’ reality/fake ‘reality’. From the artificial families in commercials to a Disney puppet to the simulated celeb-bubble that envelops her everyday existence this is a rollercoaster of blurred lines and bare berating/bear baiting.
Having to fend for herself surrounded by ambitious children, forging relationships of convenience she is ultimately discarded and disregarded. Miss American Dream turns into a nightmare, Spears’s arc bridges the cusp between the old school paparazzi and the new school social media snaparazzi where nothing is ever private. Fleeing fans she sought security in the glare of the flashbulb: ‘these parasites KEEP me alive’ illustrating the ties that bind, the double-edged sword of the tittle-tattle empires.
The song titles lend themselves to deconstruction (‘Circus’ ‘Piece of me’ ‘Stranger’ ‘Slave 4 U’ ‘Lucky’, ‘Oops I did it again’ ‘Woman’), fixing a lens on the true nature of these ‘pop’ hits and uncovering the mask that hides the spectacle. Their reconstruction here demystifies the whole process and punctures the Vegas bubble, that artificial ‘world’ of contradictions and hypocrisy. This is the path from starstruck infant (the creepy weirdness of pageantry) to powerless parent with a ‘Hollywood’ ending (like Elvis before her put out to pasture to (re)live again (and again) for the benefit of the rubberneckers.
The show is laced with subtlety from the vodka bottle with an Evian label on to the visual sexual metaphors (cavorting through a hula hoop) that add to the carnival of chaos, all part of the dead-eyed nature of an exploitation industry populated by ‘23 year old guys with tattoos directing videos telling me what to do’.
Names are shamed and digs are given (e.g Max Martin the Svengali in flat forms, Timberlake the himbo-snake and the talentless and fat Aguilera) none more than the falling Madonna (‘real, fake, alien’) who uses Britney as a cipher for her own time in the spotlight, when the cameras leave so does the ambitious blonde.
The show breaks the fourth wall by crossing over from showing to telling, a peak behind the veil, the ultimate kiss-off being ‘it’s all about how you’re remembered after you strut off’. It’s imperative to leave an indelible imprint like ‘Marilyn’s frozen in time’ image.
In order to effectively lampoon something you have to love it, know it, live it and writer/director Dean Bryant and musical maestro Matthew Frank deserve mass applause for nailing this so perfectly, but this is all about Whelan Browne’s blistering performance. Exquisitely capturing the polarities of the fame game she is vulnerable and victorious, brittle and skittish. This is setting the story straight.