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Madonna concert a made-for-TV performance

Black-clad singer even crucifies herself in less-than-spontaneous tour stop
/ Source: The Associated Press

She was an equestrian, a disco princess and a black-clad rocker — plus she crucified herself on a mirrored cross — all in less than two hours.

Madonna is known for her theatrical, action-packed shows, and Sunday night's sold-out opener of her "Confessions" world tour was no exception.

More than a dozen dancers — who had as many costume changes as the Material Girl herself — provided ample eye candy. The enormous T-shaped Forum stage featured moving platforms that carried her four-piece band and three backup singers.

A jungle-gym contraption lowered from the ceiling became a play place for Cirque du Soleil-style gymnasts, while multiple massive video screens flashed images of war, world leaders, nature and, of course, Madonna.

The production was so tightly choreographed, it left little room for spontaneity. Even when Madonna flipped the crowd the bird, it felt scripted, not subversive.

With so much flash and dazzle, it was like watching a made-for-TV performance.

Wearing jodhpurs and a top hat and carrying a jeweled riding crop, the singer emerged from a giant disco ball covered with $2 million worth of Swarovski crystals. (Maybe that's why the tickets cost up to $350.)

Male dancers were the horses, wearing leather straps on their heads and bits in their mouths. Madonna mounted one and tugged on his reins as she sang the opening song, "Future Lovers," from last year's "Confessions on a Dance Floor."

She dedicated much of the show to the album, playing nine of its 12 tracks. Selections from her other nine records were sprinkled in between.

For "Like a Virgin," Madonna climbed onto a kinky version of a carousel horse. It looked like a cross between a saddle and a motorcycle seat, black with silver studs. It raised and lowered and moved in a circle while Madonna gyrated atop it.

"The show has just begun," she declared before disappearing for one of the night's half-dozen costume changes. Moving video screens obscured the stage and old-school breakdancing kept fans' eyes busy.

Next, a mirrored cross carrying the singer rose slowly from the stage floor. She wore purple pants, a red blouse and a crown of thorns. Her feet rested on a tiny platform and silver cuffs held her arms in place. As she sang "Live to Tell," from 1986's "True Blue," numbers ticked away on a screen above the stage. They represented the 12 million children orphaned by AIDS in Africa.

It was the first of the show's two overtly political displays. Just before Madonna hoisted a Les Paul guitar to accompany herself on "I Love New York," images of world leaders — from Richard Nixon to Saddam Hussein to George W. Bush — flashed on a screen beneath bold red letters that read "Don't Speak."

The guitar didn't seem organic to Madonna, but she stayed behind it for "Ray of Light" and switched to an acoustic for "Drowned World."

The singer looked happiest when she was dancing, microphone at her side. It was the only time she smiled.

Despite the aerobic performance, her voice remained strong. At times, though, it was hard to tell where her singing stopped and the reverb began.

One of the night's most interesting elements came from guest vocalist Isaac Sinwanhy. Wearing a robe and turban, he did a solo on the shofar, a ram's horn traditionally blown during the Jewish high holidays. He then joined Madonna to harmonize with the famous Kabbalist on "Drowned" and "Paradise (Not for Me)."

The most lively and festive numbers came at the disco-flavored end of the show. A dozen dancers on roller skates emerged from beneath the stage to perform "Xanadu"-worthy tricks while Madonna, wearing a sleeker version of John Travolta's "Saturday Night Fever" white suit, sang "Music."

She kept the energy high as she performed new, disco-enhanced arrangements of the 20-year-old "La Isla Bonita" and 1992's "Erotica." Gold mylar balloons fell from the sky as she implored the crowd to sing along with her latest single, "Hung Up."

"Don't make me stop this car," the Material Mom joked when the audience didn't sing to her satisfaction. Then she spat, "Come on, you lazy (rhymes with suckers), SING!"

They did. And with the same flash and dazzle that characterized the show, it was over.