May 26, 2004
by Edna Gundersen
Who's that girl?
Who else but Madonna, reinventing her past in a splashy and stylish retro-fitted show (* * * * stars out of four). She's dubbed it the Reinvention tour, an unnecessary reminder considering she has been reinventing herself since 1983. Two decades after threatening to rule the world, pop's unstoppable dominatrix stepped on stage Monday night at the Great Western Forum to flaunt her considerable powers in a lavish and strenuous spectacle of song and dance.
It's one of several tours this year by veteran acts, Prince and David Bowie among them, reassessing and reclaiming their hits.
The two-hour career overview arrives amid cynical buzz about ploys to shore up sagging album sales with a quick-buck oldies tour featuring a Kabbalah pulpit. Nonsense. Aside from Papa don't Preach, rendered as a saucy romp, and a gorgeous version of Like a Prayer, religious references scattered through the non-stop dance party are arty and mildly provocative. She briefly dons a "Kabbalists do it better" T-shirt and wears the mystic sect's Red String around her left wrist, but otherwise avoids sermonizing, except to wholeheartedly fulfill Kabbalah's mandate to promote a positive flow of energy.
I'm giving my all," she told the audience.
Now There's something you can believe in. The concert is a rigorous, fast-paced escapade with bold sets, brazen choreography and sexy but age-appropriate costumes, plus a bagpiper, a skateboarder, a fire handler and acrobats on swings.
It's cheeky and challenging theater, from the naughty Victorian caper of Vogue and the harrowing drama of Frozen to the breezy Express Yourself, rocking Burning Up and mock combat of American Life, played out on a suspended V-shaped catwalk. And that's only in the first of four elaborate acts. A carnival section boasts a waggish Hanky Panky from Dick Tracy and the lovely Lament from Evita.
Deeper and Deeper, the only track from Erotica, gets an upbeat treatment before the mood downshifts for Die Another Day, when Madonna is strapped into an electric chair that rises on a platform. (Contrary to rumor, the switch isn't thrown.)
An acoustic set follows, with heartfelt renditions of don't Tell Me, Like a Prayer and the show's two low points: a momentum-killing rap in Mother Father and a cover of John Lennon's Imagine, competent but pointless considering the countless gems that could have been culled from her own catalog (Live to Tell, Oh Father, This Used to Be My Playground, Take a Bow). The show wraps up with a kilt section that retools Into the Groove, Papa don't Preach, Crazy for You, Music and her time-honored finale, Holiday.
At 45, Madonna is in fine voice, especially on the vintage tunes, where her silky tone may come as a surprise to fans familiar with the early chirp. She dances energetically with grace and funk, plays guitar and, naturally, has the shape and muscle density of a Barbie doll. Madonna's mini-me's (listening, Britney? J-Lo?) have a long way to go before they match her in vocal prowess or multitasking abilities.
Most notably, Madonna seems to be having a jolly good time. Whereas her last outing had technical strengths but lacked warmth, Reinvention finds Madonna reinvested emotionally. The show doesn't have the degree of flesh, carnal content or shock value that past outings delivered, but this time Madonna is opting for more heart than cleavage and more personality than profanity. And she dances with the bagpiper. You won't get that at a Kabbalah class.