Leah Greenblatt dishes on the pop sensation's 'Circus' show and why it's more like a Vegas revue than a concert

By Leah Greenblatt
March 20, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

Is there any easier metaphor for pop stardom than the three-ring circus? Madonna took on the theme with her 1993 Girlie Show, Christina Aguilera followed with her ’06-07 Back to Basics tour, and Pink is putting on the harlequin tights each night on her current Funhouse road show. But the overdone concept may be most apt for Britney Spears. The rehabbed and rebooted singer has already seen her share of big-top drama since launching a series of live dates to promote her platinum-selling December ’08 release, Circus. Among them: an infamous wardrobe malfunction and rumors (since disputed) that Papa Spears had fired several backup dancers who failed to pass a drug test.

When EW caught the show on March 13 in Newark, the 27-year-old mother of two appeared lucid and fit, even though she rarely addressed the crowd and seemed to be lip-synching to recorded tracks. In truth, the impressively choreographed 90-minute spectacle — replete with twirling acrobats, elaborate Moulin Rouge-style sets, and flashy, flesh-baring costumes — often felt less like a concert and more like a well-worn Vegas revue. And Spears, who disappeared frequently for extended periods, was its special guest star (again with the music-to-real-life metaphors!), not the commanding ringmistress.

Still, a string of sold-out or near-capacity dates (the 36-stop North American tour continues through May 3) seems to prove her continued financial viability. Says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of concert trade magazine Pollstar: ”The first early grosses came in from the Tampa show on March 8, and it was about $1.9 million for almost 20,000 tickets. In this kind of an economy? I’d say that’s pretty impressive.”