The Queen of Pop, The Material Girl, Ms. Ciccone. Madonna has many names and even more personas, several of which were on display during her Oct. 16 performance at The Chicago Theatre, the first of seven sold-out concerts during her Chicago residency.
Of all Madonna’s alter-ego’s, Madame X – the title character of her 14th studio album whose roles include a teacher, a mother, a nun, a whore and a spy – spent the most time in the spotlight on Wednesday night as songs from the 2019 release appeared in all five sets of the operatic evening. The show – with its sleep-be-damned start time of almost 11 p.m. – felt like a party attended by old friends, as fans, many clad in Madame X eye-patches, were ready to celebrate Madonna’s 30-plus year career and the music that served as the soundtrack to so many monumental moments in their collective lives.
The words of James Baldwin served as the theme of the evening as the show began with a projection of his quote, “Artists are here to disturb the peace.” Madonna wasted no time in using her art, music, dance, costumes and set design to disturb political and societal norms opening with the body-moving call for truth that is “God Control.” “Dark Ballet” soon followed, Madonna wielding the genre-bending pop composition – complete with an interlude of Tchaikovsky’s “The Dance of the Reed-Flutes” – to lead fans in worship at the altar of art.
Act III found Madonna basking in Portuguese moonlight as her stage resembled a Lisbon street scene inspired by her new hometown where she spends her time as a “soccer mom.” The setting provided the perfect backdrop for the eight-song segment, comprised primarily of Madame X music with traditional Fado songs mixed in. Portuguese guitarra player Gaspar Varela provided intricate accompaniment to Madonna’s soulful vocals on “Fado Pechincha,” while “Crazy” blended styles with irresistible results. Orquestra Batukadeiras – an all-female group of singers, dancers and percussionists – joined the Queen of Pop on “Batuka” propelling waves of pure joy from the stage to the seats.
Along with the track list of Madame X, the set was dominated by candid conversations during which Madonna would riff with the crowd, often taking time out to revel in the opportunity to enjoy a cell phone-free night as fans’ mobiles were safely locked away in Yondr pouches.
“It’s so amazing to look out there and not see a single phone,” said Madonna, adding her intent to perform a show so exciting that fans would forget about their devices completely.
Elsewhere, Madonna’s politics took center stage as she declared “death to the patriarchy” and encouraged audience members to dedicate their lives to being “freedom fighters.” She even inserted the issues of the day into some of her biggest hits most notably “Papa Don’t Preach,” which featured the lyric change, “I’ve made up my mind / I’m not keeping my baby.”
“Are you good with my right to choose,” Madonna asked the crowd noting that she’s neither for or against abortion rather she’s for the “right to choose for ourselves.”
“If men got pregnant, you could get an abortion at an ATM machine,” she scoffed.
“Papa Don’t Preach” wasn’t the only classic Madonna hit of the performance. “Vogue” felt as current as ever – thanks in part to the popularity of the FX series Pose – with dancers capturing the essence of the 1990 hit while wearing larger than life ensembles. “Human Nature” showcased Madonna’s legendary dance moves, including a gravity-defying handstand, as projected shadows pushed and pulled the icon in every direction.
“Like a Prayer” led to one of the biggest sing-alongs of the night – tired fans rallying to make the most of the joyful post-1 a.m. moment – and “Frozen” best demonstrated the tender emotional range of Madonna’s vocals as she sang in the spotlight behind a screen displaying her daughter, Lourdes Leon, dancing with passionate abandon.
After decades of performing at amphitheaters and stadiums, Madonna’s opening Madame X show at the Chicago Theatre was a gift, a chance to experience an artist’s vision in an intimate setting without filters. Her Chicago residency continues through Oct. 28, after which fans can relive the experience through the magic of memories rather than on the tiny screens of their iPhones.
Information about Madonna and the Madame X Tour can be found at www.madonna.com.