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Madonna: The Celebration Tour (O2 Arena) and touring

(seen at the first performance on 14th October 2023). MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS THROUGHOUT.

There's a scene in the movie "The Jolson Story" where Al Jolson (dubbed the “World’s Greatest Entertainer”) stands at the back of the Winter Garden Theatre in New York and requests a runway through the audience, so even those at the back can see him close up. He had style, he had grace...

And our Material Girl goes one, in fact, three better – with triple runways and interlinked stages bringing the entire lower tier close to the action, and a stunningly brilliant elevator to take her close to those seated in the top deck.

There’s a blazing fire, an orbiting ring of light, a circular raised stage which becomes a carousel of bare-chested worshippers. Screens behind the stage and on rising curtains the length of the venue, and more laser cannons than the Death Star's armoury.

And bear in mind there are at least 2 copies of this set, duplicate teams to run it, as Madonna once more blazes around the world on her belated and highly anticipated Celebration Tour. 40 years of her music-world-changing career in two and a quarter hours.

It’s a family affair, with one talented daughter Mercy James playing piano for her mother to sing “Bad Girl", another, Lourdes, helping rate sister Estere’s Vogue moves and a little DJ decking later on. The rest of the brood were also present, according to their proud parent. 

Most important of all, Madonna maintains her unique hallmark talent of unpredictability. Delivering around 40 numbers it would be easy to repeat her “Immaculate Collection” album without a thought; re-create classic routines and the crowd would have been delighted.

Instead, we get a revue – a show packed with tributes and highlights of great moments from her career – all carefully packaged to fit her trademark themes of faith, tolerance, rebellion, justice, femininity, equality and yes, raw sexuality in all its forms.

The choreography is drilled and executed to perfection even on this very first night. The costumes are crafted and daring, ranging from black religious cloaks through "Hung Up” Western to a fabulous “conical bra” moment between Madonna and her younger self.

“Justify My Love” is an inferno, “Open Your Heart” a dominating command from a chair. There’s a full-on centre stage “Erotica” orgy and a journey through virtual reality.

There are also far quieter moments. A stunning guitar-solo rendition of “I Will Survive,” and a little “Fever.” From backstage “Billie Jean” mixes with “Like A Virgin” as two shadow dancers play projected on a curtain.

A sound failure gave us ten minutes with the Lady herself, speaking of the hard times early in her career and the joy of performing now. A little of her first ever on-stage performance is revealed, and later her deep compassion and sensitivity to the heart-breaking issues currently unfolding in Israel and Gaza.

Bringing the mood up, “Holiday” is an early rev for the crowd, but it is “La Isla Bonita” (monkey’s favourite, so sue it) which really had the faithful bodies ‘moving in time’ before pictures of great world leaders appeared along with a faultless “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” – last heard interpolated as a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber's twice presence in her 2020 Palladium audience.

Strict curfew rules at the O2 Arena led to a slightly abrupt end as cut off times were breached by six minutes, but a storming "Bitch I'm Madonna" with a little "Music" and a lot of catwalk parading in high fashion left a burning after image as we hurried for the Jubilee Line home.

It was clear that the undisputed music megastar’s supported leg and recent brush with viral illness had caused the show to be structured to allow a little recovery time between segments, diminishing not an iota the spectacle. Madonna continues to generate her messages and communicate her meaning by sheer presence - a rare skill and a stunning achievement.

For fans, the enormous seat prices, insane scramble for tickets and always the anticipation as the clock ticks past the official starting time are richly rewarded as the Queen adds one more diamond to her crown.

5 stars.

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