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Madonna Opens Her Heart & Expresses Herself At Felliniesque L.A. Concert; Gives Shout-out To Doctor Who Saved Her – Review

“This isn’t a flip-flops and shorts show!” yelled Madonna on Monday night, marking her Celebration Tour’s arrival in Los Angeles.

For the first time in close to a decade, the Material Girl returned to the Inglewood Forum in a breathless two-hour, forty minute-plus mammoth, visually enthralling, techno-savvy concert covering her 40-year career. The last time she played this L.A. haunt was October 2015 with her Rebel Tour.

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And by the way, for those keeping count: Madge hit the stage early at 9:40 PM, versus her standard 10 PM start time.

“I’m about to tell you the story of my life. It’s like reading from my personal diary through music, through dance, through art, through videos. I hope you can handle it,” she exclaimed to the 17,500-filled venue, aged teen to 70-something.

With nods in its production design and costumes by Donatella Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier, and even Federico Fellini (who the singer once asked to direct one of her music videos, only to be declined), there’s no question that the Celebration Tour continues to cement Madonna as the Queen of Pop.

And for anyone questioning that, Ms. Ciccone reminds us of her status in a penultimate homage segment, putting a shadowed projected image of herself next to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, as the duo have a dance-off set to their music “Like a Virgin” and “Billie Jean.”

Neither a four-day induced coma from a bacterial infection, nor being the age of retirement can stop this mezzo soprano, who continues to be as pitch perfect vocally as she was in the 1980s. No more is this evident amid the carnivalesque, symbolic sequences, which feasibly melt into each other, as the 7x Grammy Award winner settles for a mic and light for her performance of “Crazy for You,” a rendition that will zip one back to the slow dance days of junior high 1985.

To use a word from the Madonna glossary –ambitious– sums up the sophisticated artistry and expression that she brings to the stage with the Celebration Tour, as it recaptures moments in Madonna’s life from her NYC club days to the laser beam- infused 1990s (the near close of the show’s “Ray of Life”) and beyond.

The pop songstress has spawned a long line of imitators in their ditties, get-ups, and live shows, many distinguished in their own right. Read: Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, and Ariana Grande. However, it’s quite clear that Madonna, when it comes to sheer live performance, continues to set the bar in what a fire-breathing concert should be.

Behold and pay respect, kids: Give unto Madonna’s what is Madonna’s. Look no further than the rotating wedding cake centerpiece stage which goes aflame during a “Beast Within/Justify Your Love.” Eilish at her December 2022 Happier Than Ever Kia Forum concert jumped on a plain-old industrial crane and stoked fans as it floated above their seats. But Madonna is fashionable and high-end: She gets inside a neon-lit plexiglass floating box above the entire crowd, which she boogies inside during such performances as “Ray of Light,” as well as “Live to Tell,” a beautiful memorium to those who died of AIDS, complete with an array of their images (i.e. Freddie Mercury) on myriad retractable screens.

“Beast Within” is one of several showstopping moments. Madonna in red Arabic garb stands on the shoulders of Arabic-clad dancers as she’s paraded around the multi-catwalks of the show, speaking the Biblical lyrics from Revelation, “Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear.”

On the trifecta of screens, we see images of her in Indian garb. The Arabic-clad dancers leave the red-clothed pop icon behind and form a circle in which one is ultimately beaten by the group. Jaw-dropping, political stuff, leaving the Forum to interpret.

An appetizer to this earlier in the show is the lead-up to “Like a Prayer,” in which a nun- clad Madonna and two other black habit-wearing dancers eventually make their way over to a rotating glass carousel (perhaps, church) filled with bare-chested men who appear to be hanging inside off crosses — but then they flip themselves upside down. All this against monk-chanting.

From the onset of her show, Madonna always lets you know that you’re in for a ride. Her Confession tour, which kicked off at the Forum in May 2006, began with a wide-screen, oval-shaped landscape screen (amazing for its day), displaying black and white footage of her taming the horse that threw her. It was her way of showing that she had prevailed from her 2005 accident which cracked three of her ribs, and broke her collarbone and hand. For Celebration, the Bay City, Michigan native drops jaws again with a flipping circular light bridge against three screens as she takes the stage like a Mother of God, but in black, with a lightbulb lit halo singing, “Nothing Really Matters.”

For Celebration, Madonna counts creative directors Lewis James and Jamie King, the latter one of her former choreographers who was behind her Confessions concert. Madonna found James after being wowed by Post Malone’s show, an aesthetic layout which Celebration also took inspiration from.

Given Madonna’s celebration of four decades of music, it’s easy to call this concert her Eras Tour as she celebrates different parts of her life, whether she’s adorned in a yesteryear get-up, i.e. the Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra, or whether one of her dancers is impersonating her, read the1990 VMA Marie Antoinette full regalia gown and wig. However, at any concert, she’s always been about the hits. She refuses to simply sing the songs and move on. Rather, each moment is wonderfully melodramatica (i.e. she reenacts the moment of her trying to get into the Paradise Garage club, the former legendary NYC gay discotheque at 84 King Street where she made her name, and shot her first music video, “Everybody”) or up close and personal. I.E., early on in the show, she confesses before performing “Burning Up” how she learned to play guitar when she was “broke, homeless, and anorexic”.

“I went to this party, met this guy who told me he was in a band. It was like ‘Bing.’ I asked him if he would teach me how to play guitar. ‘What kind of exchange? What are you going to give to me?’ So, I was thinking about it…I went ‘I don’t know.’ Some things came to mind, and a couple of things came to mind, and it worked. So, that’s how I learned how to play guitar,” says the “Like a Virgin” crooner.

In a special express-herself moment at Monday night’s concert right before a sublime slowed down version of “Express Yourself,” Madonna shared that there was a special guest in the crowd, that being her doctor, Dr. David Agus, who she credited with saving her life after her hospitalization last June.

“This summer I had a surprise. It’s called… um… a near-death experience. Yes, and I’m not kidding. It was pretty scary. Obviously, I didn’t know for four days, because I was in an induced coma. But when I woke up, the first word I said was ‘No.’ Anyway, that’s what my assistant tells me. And I’m pretty sure that God was saying to me, ‘Do you wanna come with us? You wanna come with me? You wanna go this way?’ And I said, ‘No. No.’”

Madonna said that Agus, “put up with so many entertaining phone calls from me. When I was sick this summer and I literally couldn’t walk from my bed to the toilet, I would call him every other day and ask him why I didn’t have any energy. When was my energy gonna come back? When was I gonna feel myself again? When could I go back on tour again? When, when, when, when, when, when, when? And all he would say was, ‘Go outside in the sun.’”

Madonna continued “’Have you seen my skin?’ His response: ‘Go outside in the sun. You need Vitamin D so your kidneys will keep working.’ I couldn’t put those two together. And I hate the sun, but I did it anyways, and it was so hard for me to walk from my house to the backyard and sit in the sun. I know that sounds insane, but it was difficult, and I didn’t know when I could get up again and when I could be myself again and when I would have my energy back. It was a strange thing to finally not feel like I was in control. And that was my lesson to let go.”

She then turned to talking about the three-month postponement of her concert. “When my manager (Guy Oseary), that greedy bastard, came to me and said –he’s probably next to Dr. Agus right now. They’re planning… they have a new plot to almost kill me again. When he said, ‘Well, when do you think you wanna go back on tour?’I took the oxygen out of my nose, I looked at him, and I said, ‘In two fucking months!‘ … I swear to God, I just said it. And sometimes you just gotta say shit, put that out in the universe, and it happens. Are you with me, Los Angeles?”

Other eye-brow raising moments included her choosing not to sing “Material Girl.” Instead there was a black clad gaucho pulsating rendition of her 007 song “Die Another Day,” as well as a quick croon of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Alan Parker’s feature version of Evita, in which she starred and won a Golden Globe.

Those two soundtrack songs were unexpected. Special guest star included Eric André, who appeared as a fashion judge, sitting next to Madonna as they graded the dancers’ “Vogue” costumes, the comedian flashing his bare butt during the bit. Other celebs have appeared on stage in previous shows, i.e. at the Brooklyn December concert, Emmy winner Julia Garner, who was originally set to play Madonna in the now unplugged Universal biopic, stepped on stage with the singer during the post “Vogue” segment.

Said one attendee sitting next to me as to why they came to see Madonna: “After the bad news last summer, I thought, could this be her last time?”

Hopefully, dear God, never.

Leading into her Oscar party on Sunday night, Madonna is performing Thursday March 8, Saturday March 9, and Monday March 11 as part of a five-night booking. To date from 27 shows in Europe, her Celebration Tour has made a reported $77M-plus and significantly counting.

Below is the set list from Monday:

  1. Celebration Intro/Nothing Really Matters

  2. Everybody

  3. Into The Groove

  4. Burning Up

  5. Open Your Heart

  6. Holiday

  7. Live To Tell

  8. Like A Prayer

  9. Act of Living For Love/The 90’s (Interlude)

  10. Erotica/Papa Don’t Preach

  11. Justify My Love/Fever

  12. Hung Up On Tokischa

  13. Bad Girl

  14. Vogue (Estere’s Ball)

  15. Human Nature/Crazy For You

  16. The Beast Within (Interlude)

  17. Die Another Day

  18. Don’t Tell Me

  19. Mother And Father

  20. Express Yourself/La Isla Bonita/Don’t Cry For Me Argentina

  21. I Don’t Search I Find (Interlude)

  22. Bedtime Story

  23. Ray of Light

  24. Take a Bow

  25. Billie Jean vs. Like A Virgin

  26. GMAYL/Bitch I’m Madonna

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