October 17, 2023
The O2, London
Rewind a few months and the idea of Madonna emerging on stage for a 2 hour and 15 minute celebration of her 40-year career was thrown into doubt. Fans were shocked when the superstar was hospitalised for an illness she admits almost ended her life, resulting in the planned opening US leg of the ‘Celebration World Tour’ being pushed.
For the legendary entertainer – who holds the record for most female No. 1 singles in the UK – however, backing down wasn’t an option and she emerged in fine form for a standout performance during the third of six sold-out shows at The O2.
Having battled technical issues on opening night and being abruptly cut off by the venues strict curfew during the second show, she was firmly in the groove as she took to the stage, introduced by ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ winner Bob The Drag Queen, to her 1999 single Nothing Really Matters – performed for the first time on this tour since its original release.
In light of recent months, it’s a fitting tribute to the thousands of adoring fans across the world: ‘Now that I am grown / Everything’s changed / I’ll never be the same / Because of you’
Establishing the foundations for a show that appeases die hard fans and casual listeners alike, she dived into an epic set of ‘80s anthems including Everybody, Into The Groove and a rocking rendition of Burning Up with Madonna on guitar. The act paid homage to the rising star’s New York origins, from being denied entry into nightclub hotspots to being taken in by the LGBTQ+ community.
Live To Tell doubled as a tribute to those lost to AIDS, with Madonna floating through the arena mid-air as projections of the many faces lost to the disease, including Keith Haring, Freddie Mercury and her former dancer, Gabriel Turpin, appeared around the arena.
In a show crammed with songs, it’s these moments that allowed the production to breathe and Madonna’s often overlooked skill as a songwriter to shine through the production values. Rain – performed by the singer alone on stage in a floor-length black cloak over a silver Versace catsuit – was equally as impressive as the high-energy Ray Of Light (Sasha Ultra Violet Mix), while Bad Girl – with her daughter Mercy on piano – stood out among the third Act.
Also featured in the show is her son David and daughter Estere, who vogued down the catwalk as Madonna and Diplo (who played a surprise DJ support slot) judged the Ballroom-inspired segment.
Produced in collaboration with musical director Stuart Price and totalling 27 songs, with nods to over 40 classics in total, the show touches on each era in Madonna’s career, musically, via visual accompaniments and recreations of iconic costumes. With such a hefty repertoire to track, there are inevitable cuts; surprisingly Frozen – a recent hit on TikTok – is missing, while the introductory notes to Papa Don’t Preach, which sent the crowd wild, are as far as the ‘80s classic goes.
Alternatively, extended time is given to interludes such as The Beast Within (from ‘Re-Invention World Tour’ (2004)) and a Like A Virgin / Billie Jean mash-up (harking back to ‘The Virgin Tour’ (1985)), although a final montage spotlighting her controversies over the decades offers a feast of iconic moments from the past four-decades and an essential foundation to the concert.
Leading into the closing segment – 2015’s Bitch I’m Madonna and Celebration (Benny Benassi Remix Edit), with dancers sporting classic looks from her career – with the singer in an outfit paying homage to the original Madonna, its an unassuming encore that, despite offering the most comprehensive ‘celebration’ in the whole of the show, feels slightly abrupt as sinks into the stage and the lights go up.
But this is Madonna; never one to play up to expectations, the ‘Celebration World Tour’ is on her terms, spotlighting the moments, music and messages that resonate loudest with her and serving as a reminder that, 40 years into her career, there’s only one Queen Of Pop.