Baby One More Time: Christie Whelan-Browne brings Britney back
Britney Spears taken apart, song by song, and put back together to reveal a more rounded human being? Singer Christie Whelan-Browne tells Andrew Shaw how she does it.
Christie Whelan-Browne has got a fantastic voice. So good she’s sung the national anthem at the Melbourne Cup and done Melbourne’s Carols by Candlelight. She’s done Grease, Rocky Horror and Xanadu, but she reveals another side of herself on a smaller canvas when she does Britney Spears: The Cabaret.
Written and directed by Dean Bryant and with arrangements by Mathew Frank, our homegrown musical theatre couple, Whelan-Browne ‘s been performing Britney’s hits in cabaret since 2009 and says the show gives a sympathetic insight into the pop star’s life.
“I think the show humanises this person that we’ve seen in so many tabloids and seen so many crazy photos of her having meltdowns and whatever,” Whelan-Browne says.
“This show reminds us that she’s a 32-year-old woman and a mother of two just trying to get by like everyone else.”
Britney Spears: The Cabaret teaser
Well, perhaps not quite like everyone else: ‘Slave For You’ is rearranged as crazy circus music, taking us back to Britney’s beauty pageant days as a child. ‘Toxic’ is done as a sexy jazz number – “it represents her losing her virginity to Justin”. There was her marriage to K-Fed and subsequent custody battles, the Madonna same-sex kiss, the shaved hair.
Whelan-Browne says it was JT who started the Britney backlash. “She was loved at the beginning,” she says. “It was when Justin Timberlake accused her of cheating in his music video – that was the point when everyone turned on her pretty hardcore. I guess that’s the way it is with the media: they love you and then they turn on you.”
She says she understands the pressure Britney was under. “Even being the lead in a musical and doing eight shows a week – there’s a certain amount of pressure involved in that. Her life is that times a million, having to do that in the spotlight with cameras chasing you around.
“She feels the paparazzi are the only ones that really love her because they’re there all the time. They really care about what she does. They camp outside her house just waiting for her to make a move. One day she got this crazy impulse and she called this pap over and he got in her car and they had an affair. She says it’s weird, they’re parasites and yet they keep me alive too. She’s baffled by that.”
Britney fans love the show, Whelan-Browne says, adding “it’s definitely pro-Britney”.
“I’ve found that non Britney fans walk out with a new-found appreciation for her.”
As Michael Griffiths’ Annie Lennox cabaret at the Powerhouse in June showed, lyrics unmoored from their slick pop arrangements take on new meaning. Much more so for Britney: “A lot of the lyrics people have never heard before because the songs are so overproduced and there’s the stuff they put over the top so you can’t really understand what the voice is saying,” Whelan-Browne says.
“Finally we get to hear her songs and we get to hear at the end of the show a song that she actually wrote. The lyrics are incredibly poignant: ‘Every time I try to fly, I fall, without my wings I feel so small’.
“At the end of the show we sing ‘Baby One More Time’ and it’s ironic that it’s her first single and the words are, ‘Baby, baby, how was I supposed to know that something wasn’t right here?’ It’s saying ‘Be careful what you wish for, I wanted to be this big star and now look at my life.’ ‘Baby One More Time’ put her on the map, but it’s very crazy how the words relate to her at the end of the show.”
Britney Spears: The Cabaret, Brisbane Powerhouse, 119 Lamington St, New Farm, August 13 - 17, 2014. Bookings: (07) 3358 8600 / brisbanepowerhouse.org
IMAGE: Christie Whelan-Browne is Britney Spears.