These were her “sins”: Swearing out loud, climbing and hanging upside down from a cross, draping the National Flag over her shoulders, sexually suggestive dancing, seemingly strangling a dancer dressed as a priest on stage, having dancers as nuns cavorting in revealing clothes as well as a female dancer that must’ve had a wardrobe malfunction, and, oh, starting her set almost three hours past the show time printed on tickets and performing mostly recent materials than the old chart toppers.
Bad, bad Madonna. Classic Madonna.
The pop diva caused a commotion at the Mall of Asia Arena (MOA) February 24 in kicking off the two-night series of the Manila leg (the 70th stop) of her “Rebel Heart Tour” that’s been to North America and Europe, then to Oceania after Asia. As if purposely thumbing nose at convention—and at a warning by the Philippine Catholic bishops that her show is “the devil’s work,” as worded in an AFP article—Madonna lived up to the title of her show, alright; sans apology and certainly without attrition.
It’s the attitude she’s worn on her sleeves throughout the tour and, one may say, for her entire career. It’s the persona her Filipino fans had been waiting to see live for months on end since the Manila leg was announced and those 57-thousand-peso tickets were bought, if not for more than three decades since she burst into the scene.
“Manila! Are you with me?” were Madonna’s very first words to the concertgoers some 10 minutes into the show which she was quoted in a Macomb Daily article as a “characteristically theatrical spectacle.” The crowd roared back lustily like there was no tomorrow, never mind if that fell on a holiday which it did (the 30th anniversary of the People Power Revolution) at midnight, mid-way through the presentation that ended almost at 1 a.m.
Like in the other legs of the tour, Madonna’s repertoire was categorized into four themed acts: “Joan of Arc/Samurai,” “Rockabilly meets Tokyo,” “Latin/Gypsy,” and “Party/Flapper.” Though all eyes were focused on the multi-hyphenate artist, there were actually four stories going on simultaneously most of the times and these were being told in the sequence of the songs, in the visuals on the video walls, in the choreography and in the synergy thereof.
Amid the alakazam of high production value glossed by the latest technology, the relatively quiet numbers were those that roused the attendees. In fact, “Like A Prayer” (till the middle part), “True Blue” and “Who’s That Girl” had Madonna just accompanied by a guitar and a ukulele. The other familiar hits from her humongous discography that ended up on the set list were musically rearranged almost to the point of being unrecognizable; as if the artist was testing her audience if they would still love those even without the familiar trimmings.
Filipinos who are used to hearing many cover songs in live performances just got two from Madonna on the first night. These were “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” originally recorded by Ross Royce and also found in the Queen of Pop’s “Like A Virgin” album; and “La Vie En Rose,” the signature song of French popular singer Edith Piaf. (Well, there’s another—the chorus of “You Light Up My Life” by Debbie Boone—which Madonna sang impromptu en acapella and more as a joke after noting there didn’t seem to be a sea of light emanating from mobile phones at the venue. Did the people forget to charge their batteries, she asked tongue-in-cheek).
After acknowledging in the latter part of the show that she doesn’t go “to this part of the world much often,” Madonna thanked her Filipino fans for the support they’ve been giving her as professional music artist for more than 30 years now. She also bantered with the audience (some of whom were foreigners), and even picked a guy in female attire to dance with her onstage.
The giant cross-shaped stage with a smaller heart-shaped stage at the tip is a design specific for the tour. It’s the same one fans have seen in other countries where the tour has had stops. Most of the props, if not all, were flown into Manila from Macau on Monday aboard a chartered plane.