How this bold, inventive original musical conceived by Bay Area locals is suddenly the hottest ticket in town. Head to the Retro Dome!
Let’s face it, Britney Spears is an acquired taste. The headlines. The turmoil. The shaved head. How much are we willing to tolerate from our pop divas?
A lot, apparently.
Still, we always seem to come back to the troubled singer, to use her vernacular, “one more time.”
Which is one of the reasons why “Becoming Britney” is such a fascinating phenomenon. The original musical, which recently hit The Retro Dome In San Jose, was conceived by local “theater geeks” Molly Bell and Daya Curley. That’s already enough to capture our interest—there aren’t that many locals around who actually write musicals—but that this outing feels so “un-community theater” … that it shines like an off-Broadway (OK, Broadway) baby; that it manages to hold our interest with performances so on-the-mark, so robust, and with dance numbers and original music that is as inventive as it is (effectively) cheeky, is a crowning achievement in an era where creativity often tends to take a backseat to quick moneymaking shenanigans.
“It’s been an odyssey for years and it’s nice to be able to shepherd to its conclusion,” beams director Daya Curley of the outing. Curley teamed up with Bell five years ago to conceive the project. The duo knew each other through their acting circles and they were both at turning points in their personal and professional lives.
Why not create a musical, they thought.
Springboarding off of a skit idea Bell originally had—a sort of “My Fair Lady” meets The Making of Britney Spears—the project soon morphed into a full show that found Bell as its headliner in a group therapy rehab setting where the infamous pop diva is confronted by her life choices. The show originally hit the New York Fringe Festival just a year after its birth, and then went back into development, debuting in the East Bay in late 2010. After another year of tweaks, “Becoming Britney” has fully blossomed.
Many things can be said of the casting choices here—and all of them good. Leanne Borghesi shines as a quasi-shrink/group leader, inviting a disheveled—and bald—Britney entering rehab. The five company players, including Borghesi seem to represent different facets of La Britney’s psyche, or waking life—mother, lover, self—and each one gives the starlet a great deal to chew on emotionally and mentally, and much of it in song and dance, of course. (The choreography here is stellar.)
A few numbers truly stand out: “My Life (So Far),” “Stop It/Here We Are” and “Push It Out,” a hilarious birth number. There’s also the “My I Want Song,” a core, heartwarming number that most of the production is hinged upon—basically, it’s an “I Want” song within an “I Want” song as the group encourages Britney to create her own “I Want” song within the musical they are in. (Got that?)
Supporting players Keith Pinto, Danelle Medeiros, Lizzie O’Hara and Adam Barry are a festive bunch. They’re able to move through the creative mine fields of singing, dancing, physical comedy and acting with aplomb. Barry’s vocals and physical prowess are sexy, endearing and captivating—he also charmed as Sonny in Retro Dome’s “Xanadu”—but look for Medeiros’ spunk to win you over and O’Hara to totally surprise you with her comedic timing. Pinto is a find and a treasure to watch.
As for Bell … who is this woman? A bona fide, fantastic quadruple threat whose energy, timing, wit and vocals are the things that make stars, well, real stars (like, out there in the big time), Bell is a gem. Rarely has a talent so enthralled its audience to such winning ends on the local stage.
“I think that people have set expectations, going in, of what they think the show is going to be,” Curley notes of the production. “I think people don’t realize that yes, it’s a lark, but we also have some heart in there. We are totally musical theater geeks. In addition to being an homage, it’s also mocking musicals. I think that people respond because they expect it to be something that is just making fun of Britney Spears and a pseudo concert, and they leave being moved.”
Much of that has to do with how effective Bell is.
“Becoming Britney” is a clever romp, sure, but it’s also one of the season’s best surprises—an invigorating production that smartly spins through a revolving door of camp, musical biography and expert showmanship.
Britney sums it up best: “Gimme More.”
“Becoming Britney runs through March 11 at The Retro Dome in San Jose. Tickets are $44/regular; $33/ students (12 and up with ID) . Seniors (62 and up). Military (with ID). Discounts available for groups of 10 or more Showtimes are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Call 408-404-7711 or visit retrodome.com or becomingbritney.com.