Madonna goes back in time, around the world

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

For the Average Joe, plumber or no, an identity crisis is a private thing, aided by psychological therapy and a lot of pharmaceuticals.

But for Madonna, an identity crisis takes a different toll: Mock catharsis before about 35,000 fans.

Each was assaulted by the present day incarnation. She ripped off their wigs, tore their dresses and otherwise thrashed against her past, which was finally killed — appropriately — by a kiss. And suffocation by bridal veil.

Madonna is a master of disguise, but even at age 50 she manages to elude. Recent news of her divorce did not make it to the stage — well, suffocating her dancer in that bridal veil may have meant something — because her current, and perhaps most lasting, manifestation is that of a stone-faced aerobics master who finds pleasure in choreographed combat.

After playing every role and foraging every musical style, what’s left? Many of Madonna’s favorite roles were reprised on this tour, but few felt freshly renewed. Most worn is her role as global messenger. A video interlude flashed images of world poverty and benevolent celebrities, but the underlying message of saving the world rang hollow. A more credible gesture may have been hosting tables in the lobby advocating Darfur relief, instead of images of emaciated children set to disco beats.

A good part of the show was dedicated to Eastern European music — which included a gypsy band performing the Spanish-language “La Isla Bonita,” which led to a cantina sequence and “You Must Love Me,” a ballad from “Evita.” It was commendable how she transformed a part of her catalog that seemed most unshakable, but mixing all languages, dress, and musical styles made the sequence feel like global clutter.

Madonna is still best served on the dance floor. Almost two hours long, the show mostly consisted of songs from “Hard Candy” (Warner Bros.), a new album that combined hip-hop swagger and hard beats.

Older songs were remixed to keep up: “Into the Groove” and “Like a Prayer” thumped more intensely than ever. Strapping on a guitar, she also reminded the audience she came of age in the punk era: “Borderline,” her first Top Ten hit from 1984, became raucous pop-punk.

The most impressive sequence of the night was the return to the old school. Keith Haring characters danced in animation in the background while dancers break-danced and a DJ spun hip-hop. Together they looked like the cast of “Fame” and Madonna looked less the elder than just one of the gang.

She proved it too: Joining in the jump-rope line, she did the Double Dutch like she was 16, ending with her hands raised in victory.

“You can’t touch this!” she yelled in a dare, less about sweat and more about stamina.

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