Inspired by the head-shaving incident of a certain pop star, Becoming Britney is not a typical musical. Featuring original numbers that pay homage to everything from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Annie, the show is essentially what would happen if the Britney Spears E! True Hollywood Story went to Broadway.

Star and co-writer Molly Bell got her start with the Los Altos Youth Theater, where she co-star Keith Pinto (he plays Kevin Federline to her Britney). Close friendships and creative endeavors seem to go hand-in-hand for Bell, who would later be inspired to write the musical with pal Daya Curley. Initially, Bell envisioned a sketch show parodying Spears in the form of an Eliza Doolittle-like character trying to become a pop star. But in 2007, when Spears suddenly appeared to go off the rails, Bell sensed the potential for something more substantial. “There’s more of a story there about a little girl [whose] family was in need of money,” Bell says. “And whether or not they realized they were doing it … they used [Britney] to a certain extent to get them out of debt.”

The pair set to work, with Bell focusing on the music and lyrics and Curley on the book. “We call it a period piece,” jokes Bell. “Minus the corsets and the bouffant hair. It stops when [Britney] shaved her head. So when she enters into her downward spiral, she goes into [rehab] and they go back and examine her childhood and what’s happened to get her to that place.”

Bell did not intend to be in the production. But when Becoming Britney was accepted to the New York International Fringe Festival in 2008 and the creative team needed a lead, it was only logical for her to step in. “I can dance like her,” says Bell. “And I sort of look like her—blond hair, 5-foot-3.” Bell’s performance earned the festival’s Outstanding Actor award.

The play is “not a parody,” Bell emphasizes. “You don’t just go off and shave your head when you’re Britney Spears without having crisis in your life, and we examine what that crisis is. So when people come in expecting a spoof, they’re surprised that it’s really a story of a girl that is totally lost. And it’s only just now that she’s really started to come back.”

At its heart, Becoming Britney is a full-blown Broadway musical. “I’ve often been asked if Britney could play my part,” laughs Bell. “I’m not sure. I sing everything from arias to belting out pop.”

Becoming Britney
Feb. 10-March 11
The Retro Dome, San Jose