Wednesday, July 11, 2012

WHAT A VIRGIN!

MADONNA World Tour 2012
Lanxess Arena Cologne
10 JULY 2012 

© SAM H. SHIRAKAWA 

Take a look at the photograph (not retouched) above and pretend you don’t recognize her.  How old would you say she is? 25?  30?  35?

At age 53, Madonna can still look and sing “Like a Virgin” as sensually as she first performed it 28 years ago.  But she now imbues the lyrics with new and deeply touching resonance. 

How would I know?  I heard her sing it at the Lanxess Arena in Cologne on Tuesday night, during the last of three concerts she gave in Germany on her current MDNA World Tour -- 26 cities in Europe and Israel, 26 coming up in North America and still more in Australia and Latin America. 



Madonna’s achievement in stopping the show with what’s become a chestnut in her repertoire signals more than a walk down Memory Lane.  While women may forever be at the mercy of their biological timeclocks, Madonna has also become living proof that her gender need not wither as time goes by.  And to walk the talk,  she performs non-stop for nearly two hours, disappearing only to quick-change into costumes, one more spectacular than the other. Along the way, she chats with the audience, preaches tolerance, encourages crowd participation and sings and dances about 20 more songs including "Revolver," "Vogue," "Papa Don’t Preach to Me" and "Celebration."  


Her show (the credits for which I can’t locate) realizes what an extravaganza ought to be:  Two wide catwalks protrude from the stage, dovetail into an ample performing space and form a triangle that encloses about 200 spectators.  Madonna spends a lot of time performing up close and in the midst of the masses, where she has her public literally at her feet. Behind this mini-stage, multiple hydraulic lifts rise, sink and even turn in uncountable combinations, carrying her and a dozen dazzling terps to and from backstage oblivion.   A segment in which the dancers leap and somersault among three sets of box cars, while the world is blowing up behind them, takes the breath away (see photo below).  The sets and graphic projections melt into each other with scintillating cool. The dizzying lighting effects include an all-too brief appearance by a mammoth triple-tier chandelier.   
Photo: Frank Michelotta

The show is slick, inventive and exciting.  But not perfect:

> The pair of jumbotrons flanking the stage are much too small for an event that seeks to be epic.  
> The warm-up act consisted of a DJ spinning what we should have been hearing live.  For over an hour yet.  C’mon!  If Judy Garland was able to procure up-and-comer Alan King for her warm up at the Mastbaum in Philadelphia (1957), surely the Queen of Pop can come up with somebody who's a somebody for her opener in Cologne. 
> Perambulating vendors selling beer blocked views of the stage during the performance.
> The show was 45 minutes late in getting started -- actually 2 and quarter hours behind target. The scheduled start was set for 8 pm, but it was tacitly understood that the show would get underway about 9.30. Madonna finally appeared at 10.15. She may well be the Queen of Pop, but many restive members of the audience would remind her that punctuality is the politeness of kings and their consorts.


The show did not quite sell out; about 15-thousand attended.  200 Euros for a premium seat may have had something to do with hawkers selling bags of spares at substantial discount outside the Arena. 

I am not a Madonna worshiper, but I’ve always liked her, especially when she appeared in David Mamet’s Speed the Plow on Broadway some years back (1988).  I think much of her appeal has to do with her success in continually re-inventing herself and in redefining splash and style irresistibly.  Time dubbed her “one of the 25 most powerful women of the 20th Century.”  Her concert in Cologne certainly exploded with power.  She is, for better or worse, a force to be reckoned with in any millenium.
 

Grafix: Sam H. Shirakawa 

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