Tomorrow night, Broadway’s Foxwood Theater will depart from its current show of Spiderman: Turn off the Dark and premier, for a single night, SPEARS: The Gospel According to Britney. I would like to take a moment for this idea to percolate into the consciousness.
The musical tells the story of Jesus Christ from birth to resurrection using only songs by Britney Spears’. Songs such as “Stronger,” “Not A Girl/Not Yet a Woman,” “…Baby One More Time,” “Oops!…I Did It Again,” and “3” are all aligned to biblical passages in the gospels and retooled to fit the tone of that passage. Pat Blute, the creator of this project, is a 23 year-old graduate student at Columbia University, where the musical was first staged in April 2012.
Look at this photograph. If it was not in the context of the pop diva, there could be no discerning that it wasn’t simply another interpretation on the Passion. The costuming depicts the traditional “period” with no glitz, glamour, or gaudy that would remind an audience of Britney Spears. This is the philosophy that Blute used to create, drawing parallels between two people who are idolized, mocked, judged, and misunderstood en masse, without distorting one nor the other. Coming from a Catholic background, Blute hopes that this musical will appeal to a Christian audience.
It seems sincere. This kind of gimmick could easily fall into parody of Christianity or pop music or both, but Blute seems to be approaching this project with care and respect.
What interests me about this project is the responses that it is gathering from the Internet community. From tirades about the apocalypse, Bible-thumping, laments about the end of theater, to fevered support, SPEARS is getting a lot of attention.
It’s the defensive part of the responses that gained my attention, excluding the fear of blasphemy that the Christian argument is drawing on (that is it’s own beast). It’s the initial, knee-jerk reaction that this musical represents the death of theater that intrigues me the most.
Why this musical? Is it the commercialism, the possible pandering and marketing to an audience that worships Britney Spears? Is it that this might have the same kind of controversy that surrounded Jesus Christ Superstar?
This is new. The new evokes human reaction, from curiosity, to intrigue, to revulsion. The fact that this is a piece that is revamping the Passion story should be ignored in this argument. We should understand that this production has only ever seen a stage at Columbia University, over a year ago, and by chance people with connections to Broadway liked it. A college graduate wrote this play and (from what I can gather) seemed to skip larger audiences and larger runs. Granted the play runs for one night, but it is one night on Broadway. That is not a small feat. Producers saw talent and potential in this young artist, and he needs to be commended for his achievements. And besides, if theater can last centuries of repression by the Church, I am confident that the Jesus/Britney musical will do minimum damage.
I don’t think that this has the lasting potential to be the next Godspell, and I seriously doubt that it will receive a long-standing Broadway run, if it ever returns to Broadway.
Production photo credit to Leslie Thulin for Spectator.