LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Madonna launched her first world tour in two years on Sunday, delighting an enthusiastic Los Angeles crowd by hanging herself from a cross, insulting President George W. Bush, and dusting off some of the sexy moves that have sustained her career for more than 20 years.
The "Confessions" tour will keep her on the road for two months in North America, and then resume on July 30 in Wales for a five-week stadium swing through eight European cities. Shows in Japan are also on tap for mid-September.
The 47-year-old dance diva spent two hours churning out most of the tunes from her new album, "Confessions on a Dancefloor," as well as a few old hits such as "Like a Virgin," "Ray of Light" and "Lucky Star."
The audience at the Los Angeles Forum included Madonna's Kabbalah guru Rabbi Yehuda Berg, socialite Nicole Richie, and gay icon Rosie O'Donnell, who upgraded herself to a premium seat on the floor and left her spouse alone in the stands.
The meticulously choreographed Vegas-style routine began 50 minutes late when a giant mirror ball was lowered from the ceiling to the end of a catwalk stretching deep into the floor. Out popped Madonna, in S&M-styled riding gear and whip, singing the new tune "Future Lovers" as four bare-breasted male dancers writhed around with ball gags in their mouths.
MADONNA, HITLER & BUSH
Later on, she donned a crown of thorns and suspended herself from a giant mirrored cross to deliver the ballad "Live to Tell." Video screens showed images of third-world poverty and reeled off grim statistics.
During one of her half-dozen costume changes, another video montage juxtaposed images of Bush, members of his administration and British Prime Minister Tony Blair with footage of Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Midway through the new song "I Love New York," she deviated from the script and made a crude reference to Bush and oral sex.
Beyond that, she barely spoke to the audience, largely focusing on keeping control of a busy nightclub-style stage that boasted 15 dancers, four musicians and three backing vocalists. For the most part, she joined in the tricky choreography, her voice evidently not affected by the aerobic workout. She did pause for a few songs during which she appeared to play a shiny Gibson Les Paul guitar.
A disco segment near the end, where she dressed in a "Saturday Night Fever"-style white suit to perform "Music" thrilled the crowd, as did the "Like a Virgin" routine, when she climbed aboard a carousel-style black leather saddle.
There was no encore, and the lights came up as soon as she had completed a medley of "Lucky Star" and latest hit single "Hung Up" while sporting an illuminated white cape with "Dancing Queen" embroidered on the back.
Billboard magazine has forecast ticket sales could reach the $200 million range, making it the most successful tour by a female artist. Cher holds the record with $192.5 million from 273 shows on a "farewell" world tour that began in June 2002 and lasted almost three years, according to Billboard.
Madonna, on the other hand, is scheduled to play fewer than 60 dates on this tour. Similarly, her $125 million-grossing Re-Invention tour in 2004 and the $75 million Drowned trek in 2001 were also relatively brief.
What catapults her to the top of the leagues is her ticket price, topping out at $380 (including Ticketmaster fees) in most U.S. venues. However, it did not stop her from adding dates to accommodate demand.
(but...is it still worth the $375 for the ticket)