The reviews are in: Britney is back.
The comeback road that started with the Dec. 2 release of her chart-topping "Circus" CD is now in full effect. She'd shown she could reclaim her pole position on both the album and singles chart; the question that remained was if she could deliver the goods live.
Hitfix rounded up reviews from a number of outlets to provide a broad picture of opening night of "The Circus starring Britney Spears." One theme (and it ain't the big top) emerges over and over: Spears is such an unexceptional performer to begin with-on her best days-that she doesn't have to do that much to razzle dazzle folks into believing she's back in fighting form. The two-hour show, divided into four acts, draws uniformly high marks for the theatrics, costumes and just the sheer extravaganza of it all.
New York Daily News' Jim Farber, who can often be hilariously snarky, plays it straight here , somewhat damning Brit Brit with faint praise. In a nutshell, he says Spears have never been heavy on vocal ability, emotional nuance or personality (But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the theater?). And she still isn't, so she doesn't disappoint. "For all the talk of a ‘comeback,' there's nothing like the sustained rigor of a live performance to show if a star's still got it. Tuesday night proved that Britney does - at least by her own slick, self-conscious and flighty standards," he writes. "She came across mainly like a Fembot - a dutiful, spry and attractive machine."
The Los Angeles Times' Ann Powers, who is unabashed in her love of pop music-and we love her for that reason alone-is fairly tepid as well. She notes that Spears-and the performer's certainly not alone in this-surrounds herself with so many dancers, acrobats, etc.-that it's easy for her shortcomings to get lost in the shiny spectacle. But first, she praises Spears for, uh, her ability to still keep us endlessly fascinated with her: "Her singing was dominated by a backing track. Her moves were nothing special -- defined by much strutting and stripper-like shimmying, with the minimum amount of acrobatics to prove her mettle as a dance-pop queen. Her physical form, still beautiful, didn't take one's breath away the way it did when she was 17.
But on Tuesday's opening night of her "Circus" tour at the New Orleans Arena, Britney Spears, the mighty Aphrodite with the troublesome tawdry streak, nonetheless renewed her claim as one of the world's most adept manipulators of the public interest." I doubt that's what Spears was going for.
MTV.com says there were so many people on stage, it was easy to lose Spears in the crowd. "Still, by the time the third act ("Freakshow," which showcased her naughty side) rolled around, it was almost difficult to pick her out from all the noise," writes James Montgomery. "Again, this has less to do with Spears than it does the massive production she's surrounded herself with, though it must be said that her version of "I'm a Slave 4 U," complete with flames and a fierce dance routine, managed to rise above all the ephemera."
Similarly, USA Today concludes that sometimes, more is just more. "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," writes Jerry Shriver. He notes that Spears is more effective when she reclaims her own show. "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, Hit Me One More Time,' stripped away all spectacle, with just her and the dancers stalking the bare stage, and was better for it."
A number of the reviews question whether Spears is singing live. But as USA Today's Shriver correctly points out, the overwhelmingly female audience "couldn't have cared." AP's Stacey Plaisance concurs: "[Spears] appeared at times to be lip-synching. But fans didn't seem to care, screaming wildly at the first sight of Spears, who descended from the ceiling on hoops suspended by wires, wearing a short red and black ringmaster ensemble."
Plus, it sounds like the show was so heavily choreographed, that there was no room for spontaneity or even words. Spears' only comment to the audience was "Thank you, New Orleans, "after the encore.
Opening nights are always tough. As much as an act rehearses, nothing can prepare him or her for the first show in front of an audience. It will be worth watching to see how the show morphs, if at all, over the next few weeks.
UPDATE: More reviews are trickling in on Spears' New Orleans show. The New York Post's reviewer, Jarett Wieselman flat out claims that "there is no live singing. It's all lip-sync." But, in what is becoming a very familiar refrain, the audience did not seem to mind. "I can't imagine one single fan bought a ticket hoping for a sweet and stylized acoustic concert," writes Wieselman. "No -- they want lavish productions, insane choreography and spectacle, spectacle, spectacle! Well, that's exactly what they were given."
Wieselman goes on to heap lavish praise on Spears for dancing, even if the 27-year-old can't move like she used to: "I can't imagine one single fan bought a ticket hoping for a sweet and stylized acoustic concert. No -- they want lavish productions, insane choreography and spectacle, spectacle, spectacle! Well, that's exactly what they were given."
Reuters review, similarly to the AP review, combined details about the show plus concertgoers' reactions. Reuters Kathy Finn praised Spears for "pulling out all the stops" in New Orleans, but some fans weren't so pleased: "I was very disappointed. She's just not in it," Stephanie Chandler told Finn.. "If you're going to lip sync, then you'd better bring on the dancing, but she didn't."
Find a Britney Spears "Circus" concert date near you here.
Here is the official sneak peek of the "Circus Tour."
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