Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Circus Is Finally Back In Town

The following italicized article is from

The event: Resurgent and rehabbed pop idol Britney Spears launches a 45-date world tour 90 miles from where she grew up, in support of her Circus album.

The venue: New Orleans Arena, with 16,000 in attendance.

The merchandise: Black velvet jumpsuits are going for $150, but the most sizzling item is the $40 black T-shirt depicting a provocatively posed Spears beside the red-glitter wording "You want a piece of me." (It's a declarative statement, not a question.) Family-oriented gear includes a $20 toddler onesie branded in gold: "Oops I did it again."

Early start: Fans clutching tickets priced $95 to $250 begin lining up in the chill at 4:30 p.m. for an 8 o'clock showtime.

We're inseparable: "I feel closer to Britney wearing these," says Jenny O'Leary, 18, of Buffalo, after plunking down $20 for a pair of black Britney panties outside the arena. "This is her comeback from the chaotic life she's been living — her midlife crisis. I think she'll pull it off."

The crowd: Heavily female, mostly late teens to mid-20s. Super-short babydoll frocks are the uniform du jour.

Already jaded: "I've seen Miley Cyrus, but I'm more excited about Britney because of her comeback," says Isabella Healy, 13, of New Orleans. "Everyone's expecting really good things from her, and if she doesn't do a good job, it might affect her negatively. But I don't think she cares."

Opening act: The Pussycat Dolls prowl a round stage arranged with metallic platforms and pound out a 35-minute set of shriek-inducing pop, including their hits Don't Cha, Stickwitu and When I Grow Up.

Big-top tease: A three-ring circus arrangement dominates the center of the arena. As a thunderous pre-recorded track blares, a bare-chested male juggler appears on one of the two rotating side stages and does macho tricks with a giant metal cage. Then there's five jugglers tossing bowling pins; three black-clad martial arts performers doing a kung-fu routine; clowns on unicycles; more jugglers; a woman performing an incredibly athletic routine on a balance beam; and still more dancing clowns (including a dwarf). Finally, lights dimming, the red scrim shrouding the center stage lifts to reveal a 360-degree screen showing a video featuring celeb blogger Perez Hilton in Queen Victorian drag.

It's showtime: The screens rise, and Britney, attired in a red ringmaster's jacket, short-shorts and black spike-heeled boots and wielding a whip, descends from the ceiling in a small cage and launches into the title track of Circus. A dozen or more acrobats spin on giant rings in mid-air as jets of smoke burst from the stage floor.

Is it live?: Amid the spectacle, it's impossible to tell how much of the singing is real, but the crowd couldn't have cared.

Breather: The show is divided into segments with fast-paced intermezzos featuring martial arts performers, acrobats and magicians. During the Ooh Ooh Baby/Hot as Ice medley, Britney climbs into a magician's box and appears to be cut in half, then re-appears across the stage in another box that explodes in a shower of sparks. Looking trim and showing lots of midriff and cleavage, she commands attention amid the chaos surrounding her.

Bag of tricks: After the first few eye-popping numbers, the action becomes somewhat routine, as Spears prances center stage surrounded by a pair of bicyclists and a dozen strutting dancers. Current single If U Seek Amy draws a huge roar and sing-along from the crowd as Spears shakes her long blond mane and plays Whack-a-Mole with dancers popping up from the stage floor.

Ready for her close-up: Fans who couldn't see when she storms the side stages could immerse themselves in the dazzling videos projected in the round "ceiling" above the stage. Me Against the Music features a harem/Bollywood theme (love her turquoise I Dream of Jeannie get-up), and for the slower Everytime/I'm Scared segment, she grabs a giant parasol with a hook for a seat and sings while suspended far above the stage.

Hot mama: Spears, a 27-year-old mother of two, sexed it up during the Freakshow/Peepshow segment of the show, sending the black tassels attached to her silver-and-black bustier flying here and there as she led her dancers around a weird gauntlet of oversized furniture and picture frames. For Breathe On Me/Touch of My Hand, Spears shed more cloth, down to panties and a barely-there sheer top with strategically placed cones, and sang while suspended inside a giant picture frame that slowly spun around center stage. Landing on a couch adorned with men, she donned a blindfold and ascended halfway to the rafters again. Finally, it was just her grinding away with a muscleman. And there was music involved as well.

Singe-inducing: Given the massive size of the center stage (painted to look like a target — we get it, Brit) and the non-stop visual and sonic bombast, the pop princess sometimes got swallowed up. Spark-shooting guns and rings of actual fire couldn't save one-note songs like Do Something and Slave. Fan-favorite Toxic, however, staged mostly with sci-fi-green lighting effects and a minimalist jungle-gym contraption, succeeded because the focus was solely on the star. And her biggest early hit, …Baby One More Time, stripped away all spectacle, with just her and the dancers stalking the bare stage, and was better for it.

Fold up the tent: The Circus show packs 17 song segments and every under-the-big-top cliché except Siegfried & Roy's white tigers into a crowd-pleasing hour and 45 minutes. A comeback, certainly, and a solid one at that. But all the sex, fire and stomp-and-slither choreography can't disguise the fact that the production needs a bigger, purely musical core (a few more songs from the current album would have helped) — and some spontaneity. It wasn't until Spears finally called out "Thank you, New Orleans" after finishing her Womanizer encore that the crowd got a glimpse into the heart of their homegirl from Kentwood.

Next stops: Continuing her warm-up in the South, Britney plays Atlanta on Thursday, Miami on Saturday and Tampa on Sunday.

Source: USA Today

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