What's new, Madonna?
Nothing really. The show is a flashy, sometimes flawed, often fun review of her past selves. The hits are energetically rearranged, the dance routines fresh and tightly choreographed. For two bombastic hours, Madonna proves that at 45, she is still an amazing, charismatic entertainer, one who connects easily with seemingly every person in a packed arena. But her new, more spiritual self mars the production at times.
The opening is long and puzzling. Appearing on two huge screens, Madonna, decked out in an odd, elaborate red costume and mask, sits in a chair. As she recites scriptures from the Book of Revelation, her movements speed up as if she were being controlled by a TiVo remote. The two screens part, revealing a smaller screen on which a bare-faced Madonna tosses and turns on a cot in a dingy-looking cell. Clouds swirl rapidly on two monitors overhead. And I'm thinking, "Huh?"
Finally, Madonna rises on a platform in the center of the stage, dressed in black hot pants, a sparkly bustier-like top and knee-high leather boots. "Strike a pose," she commands as she does a gasp-inducing headstand. Then she and her troupe of dancers, sporting Victorian garb, launch into "Vogue," the thumpin' drag queen classic.
"I've had so many lives since I was a child," Madonna sings at the beginning of "Nobody Knows Me," a solid club cut from American Life. That may be true. But in her previous lives, the performer probably never looked as good as she does in her current one. Her trim body a marvel, Madonna struts across the stage - dancing, singing, striking poses.
The show is fun and more digestible when she's in club queen mode. "Frozen," from 1998's stellar Ray of Light, is almost hypnotic. And the early songs - "Material Girl" and "Burning Up" - benefit from tough, punk-ish arrangements.
But things get a little awkward and boring as the artist, a well-known Kabbalist, inserts fuzzy spiritualism and bloated political messages. Pictures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the crucifix sweep across the screens.
During "Imagine," the overrated "protest" song by John Lennon, we're bombarded with images of children from around the world. As an Israeli child and an Arab boy walk side-by-side toward the sunset on the two biggest screens, Madonna blasts us with her message: "Stop all wars!"
All of this comes after "American Life," a busy, military sequence featuring Madonna and her dancers in fatigues and berets. On a V-shaped catwalk that descends from the ceiling , Madonna and her dance troupe stomp and sweat. In the lyrics, the singer asks, "This type of modern life/Is it for me?/This type of modern life/Is it free?"
Perhaps the strangest part of the show is when a thunderous drumline and a noisy bagpipe player introduce "Into the Groove," a Madonna dance classic from '84. But the artist makes up for such clunkiness in the last half-hour with a heartfelt rendition of "Crazy For You," which she dedicates to the fans. She ends the sprawling show with a pumped-up take on "Holiday" as red and white confetti rains down on the house.
But Madonna doesn't leave us without dropping a little advice, something that has made her rich over the years. In bold letters across the giant screens that close in the stage, the message reads: "Re-invent Yourself."
- Bron: BaltimoraSun Pop Music Critic, Rashod D. Ollison