It turns out Madonna — the queen of re-invention — is human. She admitted last night during the first performance of her Madame X show at Brooklyn’s Howard Gilman Opera house: “The one thing I need is sleep. I’m tired.” She added that she could use a nap.
But the 61 year old pop icon didn’t show any signs of weariness last night as she launched this ambitious, complex production. The good news about Madonna’s Madame X show is that there is no bad news. Not really. So everyone can relax. There’s no incentive to throw tomatoes.
Quite the opposite: I was impressed, and I think anyone who stops into the Gilman will be surprised to find Madonna, in a stripped down setting, is actually real and just a celebrity hologram. She’s very endearing in an intimate venue. Also considering that this performance of “Madame X” was the very first, you have to give her credit. She’s producing a Broadway show in progress.
Indeed, if we come back to “Madame X” in a month, it’s going to be even more together, which isn’t to say it’s not a compelling two hour and fifteen minute entertainment now. But right now “Madame X” is like several Broadway shows happening at once. Most of it works, some of it doesn’t. It needs time to gel. The pieces are good, but they don’t all fit together yet. (The sets are Broadway-level, even better, with terrific lighting. The staging runs from elaborately ornamental to elegantly minimalist. There are excellent video projections, too.)
What we get theme wise are more than a few things: Madonna’s lifelong grappling with Catholicism; her adventures in Lisbon as a “soccer mom,” as she says; her discovery in Portugal of that country’s music and that of Cape Verde, off the coast of Africa; political Madonna, who is advocating for LGBTQ, women’s rights, abortion rights, and gun control. Plus modern dance, jazz and ballet, and even a dance video from Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes. That’s a lot of themes.
A lot of this is set to showcase songs from the “Madame X” album, which didn’t sell well and didn’t come off well when it arrived. Surprisingly, those songs have been made into convincing theatrical pieces. You see, Madonna is not performing her greatest hits. If you’re coming to the Gilman for “Like a Virgin,” you’re in the wrong place. (There are financial reasons, too, for ditching the early hits– she didn’t write them and she’s probably tired of paying those songwriters.)
This doesn’t mean there aren’t nods to the 80s Madonna. Early in the show there’s a lovely a cappella moment of “Express Yourself.” You will also hear “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Frozen,” “La Isla Bonita,” and, very successfully, “Vogue.”
Last night’s show started an hour late, at 10:30pm, but Madonna did apologize and explain that later. There are other details that I’ll explore later this week in a real review. Last night, Rosie O’Donnell and Debi Mazar, her good friends, showed up to give support, and Rosie–who received cheers from the audience– got be part of a little “business.” The audience loved it.
And that audience– a group of people from Asia had flown here, and used Madonna’s lateness for a nap. The woman behind me came from Paris. There was a crowd from Brazil.
(Also be warned: your phone is locked into an airtight container upon arrival. It must be unlocked at the end of the show. No photos, no videos, no social media. Hence, no photo to go with this story.)
By the time you get to the last number, it’s well worth it. “Like a Prayer” finishes the show proper and leaves everyone on a high. But again, I think Madonna is doing some interesting work here. She’s trying pull off something much tougher than her arena or stadium shows, and you can already see the payoffs. She’s making a connection with the audience while ideas are settling in. The fans will love to watch it, and out of this will evolve a butterfly. I’d be first in line to return.
More details on Friday.