Last night wasn't supposed to be Britney Spears final performance in the United States before taking her popular "Circus" tour overseas. A night at the Mohegan Sun Arena (also known as the summer home of the WNBA Connecticut Sun), was originally scheduled for late March. Production snafus occurred and, amazingly having nothing to do with Ms. Spear' mental state, this particular show promptly became the end of her U.S. run. So, after originally opening in New Orleans two months earlier, the night became a book end in another chapter of the pop superstar's comeback. And considering how Spears life has raced through the tabloids, it's not a stretch to say she may never tour at this level again. Luckily, this writer and some friends had acquired standing room tickets on the floor of the three-ring circus to soak it all in.
Before getting to Brits, a more legitimate historical moment may have occurred this night: the last live performance of the act known as The Pussycat Dolls.
Now officially billed as The Pussycat Dolls featuring Nicole Scherzinger, a few of the Dolls have made their displeasure with the news of Diana, er, Nicole getting the special treatment. And while sympathies abound, considering Nicole pretty much sings lead on all their hits, rumors of the groups demise don't seem that off track. There was no formal announcement on stage, but it seemed like an overly emotional night for Nicole especially and a few of the other Dolls as well. Was it just because their tag-along opening gig for Spears as coming to a close (the group is not following her to Europe and beyond) or something else? Certainly a story to follow over the coming months.
As for the Dolls hour or so long set, they might not have brought the pyrotechnics, back up dancers and video screens Spears had at her disposal, but boy can Nicole Scherzinger sing. Having heard her butcher "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" live at Movies Rock two years ago, I didn't have much respect for Scherzinger's pipes, but that must have been an off night. Here, she consistently showed true talent with a strong voice, sharp dance moves and a charismatic know how to work the crowd. Whatever happens to the Dolls, she'll certainly not going anywhere.
After a short break, a select troupe from the Big Apple Circus came out and entertained the crowd. It was a fun show, but really didn't seem necessary. Especially since Spears ended up performing for an hour and 45 minutes (hey, Europe, you get your money's worth with almost 3 hours of entertainment).
Finally, it was time for the "Circus" to begin. Following an extended introduction by Perez HIlton which years from now will seem like the dated mistake it was, the center ring is uncovered to find Spears lowered to the stage with her Ringmaster hat and whip -- ready to go. And soon, the most striking aspect of the night was apparent. Considering all she's been through, all the drugs she's no doubt on to keep her stable, Ms. Spears can still dance up a storm (we'll get to the lack of singing later). Every song has a complex set of choreographed moments and she never looked off. As for her lip syncing? Well, that left a lot to be desired. Remembering all those moves for such a long show? That would have been a huge challenge for most of the 16,000 fans screaming at her every move. It was the night's biggest and most welcome surprise by far (confirmed: she isn't 100% crazy).
The success of the show, clearly Spears' most adult endeavor so far, has to go to Jamie King, the tour's creative director who replaced Wade Robinson at the last minute and reportedly completely overhauled the production. He'd previously worked with Spears on her "Oops! I Did It again World Tour" in 2000, but his reputation has grown after his collaborations with Madonna on her last three extravaganzas. While "Circus" hardly has the thematic elements Madonna has tried to interweave into he last few shows (emphasis on "tried"), Spears tour moves at a much brisker pace and never seems to force a musical re-interpretation down your throat. However, while the night got off to an energetic start with the title track "Circus," and picked up midstream with an Indian inspired "Me Against The Music" (a re-invention that actually works) there were a number of repetitive sets that dragged the middle of the show down. The night came back to life with what can only be described as a sarcastic take on "Baby Hit Me One More Time." In fact, that was the only moment during the show that Spears seemed to be contributing anything personally as an artist. Still, whether she was mocking the audience's love for her first hit or something else was unclear.
Unfortunately, the most disappointing part of the show was something this writer had been warned of far in advance: Spears barely sings (and barely might be overstating it). Even with 30 plus performances under comeback belt, a barely audible "yeah" was the most that could be heard sung from her lips. Even more disturbing was how little she interacted with the audience at this point in the tour (check out Spears' freaked out reaction here). Sure, the night before a fan crashed the stage during one of her numbers (for less than 30 seconds) and a few jitters would have been understandable at the beginning of her run, but at this point you'd at least expect the equivalent of a five minute MTV interview. Her comments through the entire performance amounted to "What's going on Connecticut?" "How you doin' Connecticut?" and "I'm going to slow it down a little for this next song." Literally, she said nothing else. Shoot, one of her infamous random "Merry Christmas" shout outs would have been welcome. By the time the show was halfway over, the only way we knew Spears was cognizant of anyone else in the arena was a random smile or two. To say she stuck to script was an understatement.
The show also ended with an anti-climatic curtain call performance of "Womanizer," Spears career redefining hit. Dressed in a police uniform (one of many costume changes during the night) she takes control of her legion of male dancers (8-pack abs required, so no chance of her ex Kevin Federline appearing onstage), but her true expressions are bizarrely masked by a pair of large dark sunglasses -- at the end of the show no less! And yet, that might have been the most appropriate artistic choice of the night. As Europe will soon discover, Spears is back in the spotlight, but she's only opened the curtain just a bit. Confidently taking control of center stage? That will have to come later.
Did you see Britney Spears' "Circus" tour? Now that it's all over, what did you think?