I’ve finally managed to put together all my notes and thoughts about the show I saw on October 23rd at the Chicago Theatre. Hope no one minds another review.
I got to the theatre around 9:30pm. The process of getting in was pretty smooth – you show your phone ticket, get a physical ticket with your seat number written on it, have your phone ticket scanned, have your phone sealed in a pouch, and then go through a security gate. Kudos to the personnel who were all extremely polite and professional. The theatre was already buzzing with people lined up to the bar and merchandise booth and just hanging and chatting. I have to add that the theatre inside is absolutely stunning.
I had a seat next to a couple of gentlemen from Ohio, longtime fans and overall very nice people. Then a couple of ladies came in and took seats to my other side. They enthusiastically told us that after they had taken their original seats in the back of the balcony, a member of Madonna’s team came up to them and said that “Madonna wanted” them to be closer to the stage. So it looked like they were just moving fans to fill in the empty floor spots. Two more fans behind us were singing Madonna songs a capella. 😊 The no-phone policy definitely made the pre-show atmosphere more friendly and relaxed.
Around 10:20-10:30pm four musicians from Madonna’s band walked up to the stage and took positions on its right edge. They played instrumental renditions of four Madonna songs (“Secret”, “Like a Virgin”, “Don’t Tell Me”, “Who’s That Girl”) as well as three or four pieces of what I assume was Portuguese music. Without exaggeration, her band is absolutely phenomenal. Classy, laid-back, super talented, and just cool. The audience sang along and gave them a deservedly warm welcome. They left the stage, and some jazz music was played from the speakers after.
Shortly after 11pm a pre-recorded announcement from Madonna was broadcast throughout the theatre (“Welcome to the world of Madame X”, etc), and the show started. “God Control”, “Dark Ballet” and “Human Nature” are performed without a pause. The bit where she has a confrontation with the police at the end of “Dark Ballet” seemed rather trite, since she has done something very similar in the past during the Re-Invention Tour’s “Die Another Day” and “Lament”, and also for the “Secret Project” and her performance of “Between the Bars” with Rocco. “Human Nature” drew a lot of cheers, and her playing the drums with a band member was quite cute. During a speech after “Human Nature” she seemed to be in very good spirits, thanked us all, and said we were much better “than the Monday crowd”. Not sure if she says that at every show though. 😊 A short “Express Yourself” snippet that followed was definitely a hit among the audience.
A vanity is then set up onstage and she does a costume/hair change behind it with help of two dancers and also a person in a doctor’s robe (there was some sort of joke behind it, which wasn’t particularly uproarious). Then there were the “Mozart from my pussy” bit and of course the small penis joke, which she said she never gets tired of telling. Answering the question (“What do you call a man with a small penis?”), an audience member in the front row yelled “Elton John”, presumably in reaction to news reports that he had called Madonna “nasty” after her “reductive” remark about Lady Gaga. Madonna either didn’t know about it (my guess) or simply chose to take the high road and said “Elton John? Interesting. His husband probably wouldn’t like that”. The spy persona is revealed and “Vogue” brings the house down. “I Don’t Search I Find” is a cool number with a nicely staged interrogation scene.
Her auctioning off a Polaroid selfie, thankfully, wasn’t as painful and cringy this time as it has been reported at some earlier dates. She had trouble taking a picture with the original camera that was onstage, and, after several unsuccessful attempts, one of the dancers (still in his “Vogue” attire) ran out from backstage and brought her a replacement. Madonna wasn’t mad or anything and even playfully tried to take a selfie with the dancer but eventually changed her mind. Reports regarding this date’s auction itself seem to have been a bit contradictory, but to the best of my recollection, two sisters from Nashville, TN that were wearing matching “I’m a Bitch” T-shirts initially offered $3,400. Another person offered $4,000, but when Madonna saw it was Detox, she politely refused his bid, which was rather nice of her. After no one else offered more, she ask the sisters (who she first thought were a couple) if they had any more cash, and they produced another $75. Madonna said she didn’t like odd numbers, and someone (I think Detox) added another $25 for a total of $3,500.
The already well-documented lyric change of “I’m not keeping my baby” in “Papa Don’t Preach” and the following abortion/women’s rights speech caused some bizarre yells from the audience’s straight men about straight men (I couldn’t make that out, unfortunately). It visibly ticked Madonna off and she half-angrily answered “What did you say??” No response followed (), and, luckily, it all ended immediately right there. To my surprise, the fans went pretty crazy about “American Life”, which I also personally love. She messed up a line in it and managed to squeeze in a remark about the theatre being too cold (it really wasn’t).
As several dancers dressed as soldiers carry a coffin across the stage, a video is projected behind them highlighting different places on a map (all seem to be Portuguese speaking regions but I could be wrong), ending with Cabo Verde. “Batuka” starts and most batukadeiras come onstage from the floor aisles. Two elderly members appear from the back of the stage already seated. Unlike the previous shows, Madonna was no longer wearing a knee band throughout the fado segment. All in all, this was a great number definitely boosted by the batukadeiras’ authenticity and musicianship. To allow time for the stage to be turned into a Portuguese street, the projection sheet comes down, and Madonna gives her “moved to Lisbon/became a soccer mom/ate too much/got fat/got depressed/found new inspiration in Portuguese music” speech in front of it. It did drag on for a little too long, and here is where things turned sour. I couldn’t hear it very well, but someone on the main floor talking over her caused her to SNAP. “Can you shut the fuck up ‘cause I’m onstage talking?!?, she pretty much barked. Man, did that cool down the whole theatre. A lot of people of course cheered her on, and she tried to promptly recover by smiling and continuing with her story, but that little incident without a doubt left an unpleasant aftertaste.
Moving on with her story, she invites onstage a member of her band named Gaspar, a Portuguese guitar player and the great-grandson of the late singer Celeste Rodrigues. He brings her a bottle of “beer” and she makes a salty joke about coming from a family of alcoholics. In a demonstration of her love/hate relationship with America’s Heartland, she half-condescendingly addressed us as “smart, sophisticated people of the Midwest” when she asked if we knew what “fado” meant (some did). She and Gaspar then perform a fado song which I don’t think many (including me) found particularly outstanding. The curtain is lifted and the Portuguese themed sets are revealed. She does “Killers Who Are Partying” and “Crazy”, which were both pretty amazing in my opinion. In “Killers”, she replaced “I’ll be Israel” with “I’ll be Palestine.” “Welcome to My Fado Club" and “Sodade” then follow with her sitting on top of a piano and playing the guitar. Now in all honesty the whole segment would have absolutely benefitted from omitting “Welcome to My Fado Club" and either of the two fado songs. The former is just one of those non-sensical ditties she tends to come up with (see “Lisa Come Undress Me”) in which she keeps saying over and over in a rather grating manner “One-two sha-sha-sha” (exactly). It does feature one “La Isla Bonita” chorus (where the “lullaby” is Portuguese this time), but that doesn’t really save it. A second fado song just slows things down way too much. And she again asked the “smart, sophisticated people of the Midwest” about the meaning of “sodade”.
Still on top of the piano, she jokes about needing “years of sleep”, and then has the audience repeat “One-two cha-cha-cha” to make her get off it. “Medellin” was simply impeccable (you really get to see her fantastic dancers shine during the whole segment), and then came the beer chat… She came down to the orchestra pit from the right side, and after some chair mix-up (someone also said she could sit on their lap to which she quipped “I’m not gonna sit on your lap. You couldn’t bear the weight of me”), she settled by a guy whose name I sadly didn’t catch. The guy was very soft-spoken and was mostly giving one-word answers to her standard questions (star sign, etc). Drinking the beer, she again half-jokingly mentioned her “family of alcoholics” ancestry. She also kept asking the guy “Why do you like going to the theatre?” but didn’t seem to get an answer she would have liked. The whole bit was painfully awkward, and frankly she didn’t handle it very graciously. She wrapped it up quickly by saying “Maybe next time you can come up with better answers”. Those guys from Ohio sitting next to me were really taken aback by that as were many others in the theatre. “Extreme Occident” features some great staging with the stair cases moving around the stage. The line “I came from the Midwest” drew expected cheers from the crowd.
One of the biggest surprises to me was the “Rescue Me” interlude. Just her dancers in front of a white sheet performing a very Pina Bausch-like number to Madonna’s reciting some of the song’s lyrics. I couldn’t figure out why but it was just mesmerizing. Everybody erupted in applause as soon as it was finished, and deservedly so. A lot has been said about “Frozen”, and it totally lived up to the hype – simple, beautiful, and very melancholy. “Come Alive” transformed the stage into a bustling African town full of song, dance, and celebration, and once again the batukadeiras elevated it greatly. “Madonna playing the piano” during “Future” is really an overstatement since all she does is play the same three notes throughout the song. The number’s message is great but I found the execution lacking something. Perhaps I just didn’t like her vocals that were way too processed even by this show’s standards. Now where do I start with “Crave”… I love the original version. However, I thought the remix used for the show didn’t do the song any justice, and the number itself was just a poor man’s “Deeper and Deeper” from the Girlie Show. Not to mention, it just felt out of place. I think if she dropped it completely, continued with “I Rise” instead, and finished with “Like a Prayer” as an encore, that would be perfect. Interestingly, during “Like a Prayer”, its original music video is projected as the backdrop. And of course it had the entire theatre on their feet and singing along to it.
As things stand now, “I Rise” is the encore. The dancers contribute some great choreography, and at this show Madonna and company exited the stage through the middle aisle, which allowed me to catch a glimpse of her from just 3 feet away. 😊 “Thank you, Chicago. Good night!”