By JANE STEVENSON - - Toronto Sun
TORONTO - - After an 11 - year absence, Madonna returned to Toronto last night with the first of three sold - out shows at the Air Canada Centre.
The 45 - year - old pop icon notably didn't bring her 2001 Drowned Tour to T.O., disappointing fans, but she seemed to have been forgiven last night judging from the roaring reception.
"Ah, it's good to be back in Toronto," she said towards the end of her hour - and - 50 - minute set. "It's been so long. Just because I have two children doesn't mean I don't like to have fun."
Believe it or not, Madonna last performed in this city in 1993 with her sexy Girlie Show Tour at SkyDome. (She mistakenly remembered her last visit as the infamous 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour saying: "The last time we were here, the police almost arrested us. I'm a good girl.")
But back in 1993, she was a vastly different artist, single and childless, and without her new - found faith in Kabbalah, the study of a kind of Jewish mysticism that has found her choosing the Hebrew name of Esther for herself.
Not to give anyone the wrong idea.
Last night's show - - which began 45 minutes later than scheduled and found 17,000 anxious fans chanting "Madonna! Madonna!" - - was still a hi - tech, flashy and fun affair but overall more tame, and slightly preachy with plenty of Bush - bashing, anti - war messages and Hebrew references.
Like the L.A. tour launch on May 24, a select group of fans were guided into tiny pits on either side of the stage before the concert began for a first - class view of Madge, although five giant moving video screens enabled the masses farther away to get a good look at The Material Girl. (Given her tour merchandise ranged from for a keychain to 5 for a pink hooded sweatshirt - - so much for her claim she's now The Non - Material Girl.)
Kicking off the night with a slick, stylized video and recorded spoken - word monologue called The Beast Within, the concert really began when Madonna made her big entrance laying down on a platform that came out of the stage floor to the opening strains of her 1990 uber - hit Vogue.
She was quickly joined by nine dancers, all dressed in French period costumes, with her seven - piece band divided into two camps in the shadows on either side of the stage.
The biggest production number, however, came during the title track from her 2003 release, American Life, which saw a gleaming silver catwalk descend from above for a fashion show featuring Madonna's dancers dressed as everything from a rabbi, a priest, a nun, an Arab, etc.
By this point, Madge - - who began the night in a sparkly champagne - coloured corset top, short black shorts and knee - high black boots - - had changed into army fatigues and a black beret with the rest of her dancers brandishing rifles for army - themed choreography.
The background video, meanwhile, was sober images of victims of war ending with a Bush and Saddam Hussein look - alikes sharing a cigar. (Similar video of children in war - torn countries was shown during her cover of John Lennon's Imagine.)
Because this is called the Re - Invention Tour, many of Madonna's songs were reworked, some better than others.
Often she appeared as a solitary figure on stage playing the electric or acoustic guitar on such songs as Burning Up and Material Girl or the new tune, Nothing Fails, respectively.
The weakest link in the entire show was the circus - themed third portion where, for some unknown reason, Madonna dragged out the awful Dick Tracy song Hanky Panky, and turned the normally robust dance song Deeper And Deeper into a cabaret ballad.
Thankfully,that segment was saved by a wonderfully inventive tango version of her James Bond theme song, Die Another Day, before she was placed in an electric chair for the Evita number, Lament.
Other crowd - pleasers proved to be a mix of old and new songs like Frozen, Express Yourself, Don't Tell Me, Like A Prayer and Music.
Although Get Into The Groove, which featured bagpipes, drums and Madonna and her dancers in kilts, and the show - ending Holiday, complete with red - and - white confetti and another stroll down the catwalk, have to be singled out for special mention.
Madonna wraps up the North American leg on her Re - Invention tour on Aug. 2 in Miami before heading over to Europe.
Otherwise, she plays two more shows at the ACC, tonight and Wednesday. The Toronto shows initially sold - out in a record - setting 80 minutes but more seats were released once the Re - Invention production was finalized.
Rumoured among those to be in attendance last night were Madonna's two children - - seven - year - old daughter Lourdes, a.k.a. Lola, and three - year - old son Rocco - - and hubby Guy Ritchie.