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Tour Opens : It's True: Madonna Is Really Good

June 29, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

Madonna--whose tour comes to Anaheim Stadium July 18 and is part of a high exposure summer that also includes an August movie, "Who's That Girl?"--looks cold and unapproachable on the cover of the current issue of C o smopolitan: gold evening dress, gold hair and gold dangling earrings.

On stage, however, she came across Saturday as a most gracious yet determined hostess in a show--choreographed by Jeffrey ("Flashdance") Hornaday--that has the sleek, even at times slick feel of a Broadway revue whose theme is celebration.

"Open up your heart," sang Madonna as she raced back and forth across the stage during the first number.

"If you gave me half a chance you'd see," the invitation in the lyrics continued, "my desire burning inside of me. . . . Don't try to resist."

From the start, the singer--looking a good 20 pounds slimmer than on her 1985 tour--proved a much stronger singer and more graceful dancer than on her first tour. Her seven-piece band played hard-edged, percussion-focused dance music, and she was joined by male dancers occasionally. She also used a moving sidewalk to great advantage, creating a bit of Michael Jackson's "moonwalk" effect.

Wearing a skimpy black corset at the start of the show, Madonna fueled her sex-kitten image. Two numbers later, however, she stepped playfully into a '50s prom dress to reflect the innocence of "True Blue," one of her most engaging hits, and then put a black leather jacket over the dress for "Papa Don't Preach." In an apparent acknowledgement of the controversy surrounding the song, the words "safe sex" were flashed on a huge screen at the back of the stage.

Without slowing the pace, the singer continued to step in and out of costumes to accent the themes of the songs: a delightfully wacky Cyndi Lauper-type party dress to stress the humor of "Material Girl," and later a Spanish cabaret dress to salute the Latin party flavor of "La Isla Bonita."

At the end, Madonna returned to re-emphasize the show's celebrative theme with a sing-along rendition of "Holiday."

Despite sometimes mediocre material, Madonna has put together a winning package that seems almost too sophisticated much of the time for her teen-age fans. Yet she delivers the hits with an enthusiasm and love of performance that audiences, regardless of age, should find hard to resist.

Even this tour may not be enough, however, to erase the public suspicion of this ambitious young singer. In initially reaching for stardom, she took a calculated gamble in creating a strong, controversial image. The question now is whether pure talent is enough to make people see past that image.

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