Warning: Picture and praise heavy.
As the video screens start to pull upward along with the black curtains, the silhouettes of a half dozen circus performers slowly fill out across the smoke-filled stage. From above, the outline of a hanging cage begins to poke through the darkness. The crowd surges forward into manic squeals, shrieking at the mere sight of the descending platform. The ringleader stands motionless inside, wearing a crimson ringleader jacket and black riding boots; a long whip grasped securely in her right hand. The cage is halfway down at this point, now slowly rotating for all to see. On her face she wears a cheetah mask, with wildly ornate plumes flaring out from all sides.
The cage touches ground. She steps off onto her mark and slowly removes the mask to unveil a buoyant bob of healthy blonde, shoulder-length hair. Smirking slightly, she raises the whip behind her head and begins: â€œThereâ€™s only two types of people in the worldâ€¦the ones who entertain, and the ones who observe.â€ With a short crack of the whip, the stage explodes with lights and sound. Aerial acrobats suddenly swoop down from giant rings, as dancing clowns and sideshow characters begin to fill the stage. As she begins making her way toward us, I notice an eerie silence from my right. I turn to find my neighbor entirely frozen, mouth agape and hands pressed firmly against her cheeks in utter disbelief. Yeah, Iâ€™d say Britneyâ€™s back.
And so, The Circus: Starring Britney Spears beganâ€”a show that, until only about three months ago, would have seemed more like a cruel joke if offered up in conversation than an actual, conceivable event. Though Iâ€™ve tried (in vain) to evade the overused, cringeworthy â€œCâ€™ word in describing the nightâ€™s events (Get your heads out of the gutter, foolsâ€¦Iâ€™m talking about the â€œcomebackâ€), removing the infamous narrative from the equation would ultimately be to ignore the symbolism behind The Circus: Standing here is a young woman, once reduced to a mere shell of herself only two years ago, drugged against her will and lost in a barrage of shady business partners and barbaric media scrutiny, now standing confidently in the center of a sold out TD Banknorth, an arena that seats approximately 18,000 people. Itâ€™s a reality that lifts the production from the ranks of mere brilliance to a damn near miracle.
Opening up the show an hour prior, the Pussycat Dolls took to the stage to power their way through a forty minute set of their most crowd-pleasing singles. â€œThis one here is for all my ladies,â€ Nicole Scherzinger howled before kicking into their empowerment anthems, â€œI Donâ€™t Need A Man.â€ As the Dolls slid down their metallic poles, shimmied, and high-kicked their way around the stage, I couldnâ€™t help but notice the sweet stench of complete and utter irony.
Between songs, the burlesque beauties made sure to keep the crowd hyped until the very end. While the Dolls generally held their own in keeping the energy level high, it was clear theyâ€™d been thanking their lucky sparkle thongs for landing this gig. Launching into the chorus of their recent single â€œWhen I Grow Up,â€ Scherzinger riffed: â€œWhen I grow up, I wanna be famous / I wanna be a starâ€¦be on tour with Britney Spears!â€
Split between four main acts and an encore, The Circus remains true to its name: Incorporating a healthy dose of magicians, aerial artists, gymnasts, ringmasters, clowns, and a fair share of freaks, the show is a dizzying 90-minute powerhouse of nineteen of Britney Spearsâ€™ finest pop anthems set within a three-ring stage in the round.
While the show may borrow its incredibly marketable theme from her latest album Circus (Britney-branded popcorn, balloons, and light-up lollipops are all sold from faux-vending carts), its musical contents are ironically Blackout based (including only three tracks from Circus, as opposed to Blackoutâ€™s eight.)
Accordingly, the show is as manic as the album is most heavily borrows from, such as the â€œHouse of Funâ€ segment, jumping from the Rhythm Nation-like military stomp of â€œBoys,â€ to the girly glee of â€œIf U Seek Amy.â€ Brandishing a giant, glittery pink Super Mario-sized hammer, the star merrily skipped her way around the stage, bopping her dancers over the head and effectively turning the last thirty seconds of the song into a live action game of whack-a-mole.
Never one to shirk her duty in getting dirty, the â€œFreakshowâ€ segment of Circus comprises a medley of some of her most seductive numbers, leading with what Iâ€™d consider one the showâ€™s greater highlights, the â€œSweet Dreamsâ€ video interludeâ€”a gritty raunch-fest featuring Spears and her masked dancers tangled in an orgy of limbs and leather aset to the sound of Marilyn Mansonâ€™s cover of the Eurythmicâ€™s classic. Very â€œMy Prerogativeâ€ meets â€œEroticaâ€â€”very much essential.
Following the interlude is fan favorite â€œBreathe On Me,â€ which finds the starlet taking to the sky inside of a massive picture frame, only to return to the stage and deliver one lucky male fan an impromptu striptease, complete with a few hair flips to the groin.
The deliciously silly, sexual romp then leads swiftly into â€œTouch Of My Hand,â€ Britneyâ€™s self-exploration ode filled to the brim with Madonna-like gestures and poses. The performance also features the tourâ€™s most awe-inspiring visuals, as the star is lifted not once, but twice up into the air during a particularly steamy make-out session with an aerial acrobatâ€”all without the assistance of ropes or wires.
The only drawback to the most provocative sequences of the show was the miserable costume selection, which went from bad (a glittery one-piece with massive boobie tassels), to really bad (a faux-tattoo one-piece with Keith Haring-esque squiggles pasted across Britâ€™s naughty bits.) Thank you, William Baker, for your continued hatred of the female form.
Speaking of outfits, the golden metal leotard worn in previous shows during the rock rendition of â€œIâ€™m A Slave 4 Uâ€ failed to make an appearance in Boston, presumably after a microphone caught the singer colorfully complaining about the costumeâ€™s revealing quality during the show in Tampaâ€”not that itâ€™s anything we havenâ€™t already seen.
Scattered throughout the show were also many moments clearly designed to re-establish Spearsâ€™ public image as the shot-caller. Following â€œBoys,â€ the singer instructs her male dancers to drop down and â€œgive me tenâ€¦real ones.â€ After counting it out, Spears skips up and down the line of sweaty soldiers at her feet, sing-songing along in an army chant: â€œI donâ€™t know what you been toldâ€¦This mama is in control. Sound off!â€
Truly, the mama was calling the shots that night. Whether it can be attributed to creative input or simply to threatening to cancel the tour, Britneyâ€™s getting her way. As anyone familiar with Spearsâ€™ personal tastes might conclude, the setlist comprises nearly all of the singerâ€™s favorites, including â€œBoys,â€ â€œTouch Of My Hand,â€ and of course, â€œDo Somethinâ€™,â€ during which the singer dons a pair of dark sunglasses, drills away at a metal contraption, and flips off the audience several times while images of tattooed pin-up girls flash overhead.
As the media has been quick to pounce upon, the show was indeed lip-synched. Shocking I know, given that Britney Spears has always been known for her vocal prowess and artistic integrity. Itâ€™s truly difficult to believe that people still harp upon the lip-synching gig. I mean honestly, (and trust me, this comes from a loving place) but does anyone actually want to hear her live? While I pride myself in being one of the greatest fans of Spearsâ€™ ill controlled, drowning cat warble, even I would put my foot down at the notion of a live concert.
Nay, vocals should not be the reason one attends the Britney show. The Circus is exactly thatâ€”a circus, an engaging visual experience put on by one of the worldâ€™s most established pop artists, complete with an extensive array of choreographed stage theatrics provocative imagery, and catchy beats. Really though, itâ€™s just good fun.
Perhaps more than just simply being fun, The Circus is very much a lasting statement; further proof that Britney Spears has indeed found her stride along the seemingly endless â€œcomebackâ€ route andâ€”by the power vested in Madgeâ€”will continue to be around for the long haul.
Picking up my gum-ridden program from the floor and wiping off the paper confetti from the brim of my hat at the close of the encore, I was once again struck by the same wanting feeling as I did the first time I saw Britneyâ€”the â€œitâ€ factor she possesses that simply beckons the audience to yearn for more. As I turned for a final word with my newfound friend, one of her high school gal-pals said it much better than I ever could have: â€œThis is the best night of my life. Seriously, this is probably going to be better than my wedding night.â€ Well, I couldnâ€™t argue with that.