After a rocky start to 2011, singer and actress Christie Whelan is about to start 2012 on a high.
Previously attached to Xanadu: The Musical in Olivia Newton-John’s iconic role, the show came to a crashing halt after financial woes just a few weeks into its season, despite plans for a national tour and considerable praise for Whelan’s performance.
Now she’s performing in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s sell-out production of The Importance of Being Earnest, starring Geoffrey Rush, and about to return to a role like no other.
Britney Spears: The Cabaret, the one-woman satirical look at the perils of Spears’ fame was written specifically for Whelan and comes from the minds of Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank, the guys behind gay coming-of-age musical Prodigal.
The show sees Spears’ hits transformed into cabaret songs and intertwined with monologues conveying her life story.
But for a show that could so easily have been a slapstick parody of a life not wanting for hilarious plot points, audiences will find a heartfelt portrait of the star along with the expected laughs.
“We’ve seen the tabloids and the paparazzi but I think the purpose of the show is to really look at her as a human being,” Whelan told the Star Observer.
“We tend not to look at people at her level of fame as real people any more.”
The show made its debut at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2009, following it up with sell-out seasons in Melbourne and Sydney in 2009 and 2010 — all of which garnered considerable praise.
The encore performances will see Whelan take the show to both the Midsumma and Sydney Mardi Gras festivals, as well as Brisbane.
Whelan has been a fan of Spears since she was a teenager — they also share the same age — and knew most of her songs when Bryant approached her about the role.
With the lyrics in the bag, she said NW magazine and YouTube did the rest.
“My first thought when Dean approached me was just ‘Yes’!” she said.
“I’d just worked with him on another show and I know his strength as a writer is comedy and flipping that on its ear and making people feel something.”
After mastering the accent through old candid interviews with the pop star, Whelan said the toughest part was being able to learn to carry a show with a substantial running time and lengthy monologues by herself.
“It was the first time I’d been on stage by myself for more than five minutes, so it was definitely a new experience.”
In terms of future projects, Whelan said she’s preparing for the role of a lifetime.
“I’m playing the bride in my own wedding on March 4. That’s my next big performance,” she said.
INFO: Britney Spears: The Cabaret is at Chapel Off Chapel, Melbourne, January 18-29 www.chapeloffchapel.com.au; Powerhouse, Brisbane, February 8-12 www.brisbanepowerhouse.org; and Seymour Centre, Sydney, February 15-25 www.seymourcentre.com