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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Madonna Pumps It Up With 'Blond Ambition'

May 14, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

You've heard about audiences yelling "author, author" at the opening of a great new play?

Madonna's triumphant "Blond Ambition" tour may start a new tradition: "fitness trainer, fitness trainer."

Forget Arnold Schwarzenegger--Madonna ought to be chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness. She works so hard at keeping in shape that she makes Jane Fonda seem lazy.

Two hours a day in the gym? Ten?

Whether this devotion with fitness grows out of obsession with appearance or health, Madonna reflects the same determination in the rest of the fast-paced, dance-conscious "Blond Ambition" presentation.

Madonna didn't inject any extra Hollywood glamour Friday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena as she kicked off a five-night engagement that continues with performances Tuesday and Wednesday. None of her famous pals (including "Dick Tracy" co-star Warren Beatty) joined her on stage and there weren't other special effects.

But the basic "Blond Ambition" show comes equipped with enough high-concept, Broadway-like choreography and stage design to satisfy the most demanding stargazer in a crowd equally populated by style-conscious Madonna wanna-be's and simply curious mainstream fans.

In many ways, Madonna is in this new show everything Liza Minnelli seems to want to be: \o7 the\f7 link with the great show-biz entertainment tradition.

The difference is that Minnelli measures herself by existing standards and plays by old rules, where Madonna sets a new standard and breaks the rules in a show that explores sexual fantasy and stereotypes, religious redemption and guilt plus Hollywood glamour with consistent imagination and style.

Madonna's approach offers the kind of dazzle--a flashy set, colorful costumes and a cadre of dancers--that is sometimes used to cover up artistic weaknesses. But Madonna--blessed with a marvelous sense of performance--commands the stage as fully when she is surrounded by dancers as when she is sitting alone on a chair.

For three generations in rock, we have been used to performers captivating us with their voice and songs. Madonna can't compete, artistically, with the giants of that tradition. She is more a conceptual pop artist than a purely musical one. Creditable on record, she comes alive on video and on stage.

By becoming established in the public mind as a Celebrity before becoming understood as an Artist, Madonna is still widely viewed as something of an accidental star. One way to change that perception is to place the electricity of this tour into a more traditional setting. Put "Blond Ambition" on stage for a month on Broadway and we'll be hearing shouts on opening night of, "Madonna, Madonna."

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