Madonna’s MDNA Tour
Say what you want about the Material Girl -- "she’s too old," "she isn’t relevant," "she charges too much money" -- all of that is moot as soon as her new arena show "Madonna’s MDNA Tour" begins. A casual fan myself, I met the prospect of seeing a Madonna show with a bit of apathy. But the chance to review the show allowed me to go in with no expectations and an open mind. And while her new album is only somewhat familiar to me, I really had no idea where the night would take me. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
As usual, Madge went on two hours after the show’s alleged start time. But an opening set by DJ Marius Devries (and the "MDNA" album co-producer) got the crowd on their feet and their adrenaline flowing. And when the arena went dark and the gongs of a bell sounded, you knew it was all about to go down.
Starting out in Gothic religious reverence, Madonna’s dancers ascended the stage dressed as monks, lighting a large lantern that beckoned the Queen to make her appearance. And like the bad girl she professes to be (and has proved to be over the years) she burst onto the stage, launching into an energetic rendition of her hit "Girls Gone Wild" that had the rapturous crowd doing the same.
The stage itself jutted out into the audience in a sort of arrow shape with "V" cut out in the center where special invited guests got to see the show from within the action. Behind her on the main portion of the stage were three huge LED screens that altered the stage’s appearance moment by moment, sometimes even creating a 3D effect that was truly stunning. Right before she first appeared, it actually resembled the inside of a cathedral or monastery. So much so, I wasn’t even sure if it was a tangible set or just the video screens.
Judiciously using the entire stage, Madonna was sure to give every part of the audience her time and she wasn’t afraid to get touchy-feely with the crowd. For someone who is notoriously hands-off, she was more than willing to get close to her fans, even baring her butt at the end of "Erotica," three feet from her adoring public.
The story or "theme" of the show is a sort of descent into hell and back out again. After the opening number, she transitioned into "Revolver," stalking the stage with a gaggle of leather-clad ladies who all looked like they stepped out of a Bond movie as the villains.
As her story continued, she then finds herself in a seedy hotel room as a Quentin Tarantino-inspired rendition of "Gang Bang" began and she was forced to fend off an attacker by any means necessary. This resulted in a cleverly choreographed fight scene which concludes with her shooting the guy in the head numerous times, which, to follow the leitmotif, began her descent into hell.
On the occasion that she did sing a classic Madonna track or two, she did so by altering the song in curious and interesting ways. "Papa Don’t Preach" became a stinging plea for forgiveness as she was forced to pay retribution for what she had done. Later on, "Like a Virgin" became an acoustic heart-tugger between her and a piano player.
Although, truth be told, this might be one of the very few complaints of the evening; there wasn’t enough old stuff. In fact, Madge did nothing from arguably her best album of the last 15 years, "Ray of Light." Eighties classics were slim and generally left to a refrain or two, although she did offer a rousing, choral driven version of "Like a Prayer" that had the entire stadium singing along.
She spent most of the show promoting her new album (10 songs in total) which, while not the success she might have expected, worked very well in a tour setting. And after a protracted section of heavy songs and an even heavier monologue where she praised our country for allowing us to be free and shamed the audience for being complacent (a weird approach for sure), she finally lightened up the show with her classic "Holiday." This sparked a second act where her show’s "character" finally comes out of the darkness.
She ended the evening with "Celebration," a no-brainer as a closer, but the shocker is that after two and a half hours, our girl was still hoofing it up with the best of them with no sign of slowing down.
Mention must be made of the remarkable production design by Jake Berry, which was mind-blowing in its complexity. The lighting was -- to use an overused term I generally save for cross-continental journeys to save the world -- epic.
Choreography by Alison Faulk and Jason Young morphed styles of Parkour and Cirque, shape-shifting body tricks, and the high energy group dances we love and expect from a pop tour such as this. While she is the creator of the show, Madonna worked with the show’s director Michel Laprise and Creative Producer Jamie King (along with co-directors Richmond Talauego and Anthony Talauega) to orchestrate a stunning production that is (almost) worth the exorbitant ticket price. All of this adds to the sheer profundity of the experience making the "MDNA Tour" her best since the "Reinvention Tour" in 2004.
Already in her early ’50s, Madge certainly defies her critics with her vigor and her dexterity. She was dancing just as on point as her 20-year-old backup dancers and sang a good portion of the show live. As much as I wanted to doubt her, this show forced me to realize she really is the Queen. While she does like to keep reminding all of us of this, the fact of the matter is she doesn’t have to. It’s all up there on the floor. And she wipes it up with all the other pop stars who only hope to ever claim her throne.
Madonna performed her MDNA Tour through Oct. 11 at the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles. The North American leg of the MDNA tour runs through December 22, 2012. For info or tickets, visit www.ticketmaster.com or www.livenation.com. For info on the Staples Center, visit www.staplescenter.com.