People who rip Madonna for not acting her age should take a good hard look at Mick Jagger.

Do people make fun of him for acting like a stud on stage? OK, bad example. Point is, if it’s OK for the aging male rock stars, why shouldn’t Madonna try as hard as she can to remain relevant, hip, sexy, shocking, whatever she wants? It’s inspiring to see a 57-year-old woman up there twerking on top of pole-dancing nuns in their underwear … and where were we?

Yes, Madonna is the hardest working woman in show business, praise that shouldn’t be thrown around lightly.

For the first of two shows at Rexall Place Sunday night – and what rude American scheduled this on Thanksgiving weekend – the queen of pop led a dazzling Cirque du Broadway sexy song and dance spectacle that put most others to shame. Fans who shelled out huge dough for this thing expected no less than the best. This is what pop concerts look like these days, and Madonna pulled out all the stops (an old pipe organ reference) to make sure this Rebel Heart tour was the biggest, flashiest, most grandiose Cirque du Broadway sexy song and dance spectacle available.

Not surprisingly, the music was for the most part less interesting than the production that went with it. Representing all phases in a career dedicated to remaining relevant, hip, sexy shocking, etc., each song was no mere “song” to be “performed.” No, each piece of the Madonna story was presented as choreographed high drama. A squad of hard-working dancers playing parts ranging from Holy Roman Warriors to gas jockeys to street dancers out of a modern version of West Side Story. Later came bulls and bullfighters in a lively Spanish number, setting the stage with a steamy dance number with matadors in La Isla Bonita. Latin was just one of the flavours in a musical travelogue that also made stops to Africa and the Middle East.

The underwear-clad nuns weren’t the only Catholic-shocking imagery deployed, a schtick she’s used to good effect for decades.

Opening with a song Iconic saw the 57-year-old singer lowered to the stage in a cage, which she promptly broke out of to sing about what it’s like to be a pop star, an “icon.” Soldiers brandishing crosses were replaced by geisha girls in a song called Bitch, I’m Madonna – in case anyone was confused who they were seeing. Much later came a new song called Unapologetic Bitch, if you’re sensing a theme.

A warm and relaxed host despite the obvious demands of the show, she addressed the crowd after her old-school-style pop song True Blue. “I get to do what I love – I’m a lucky girl!” she said, adding, “You’re lucky, too!”

Through each of what appeared to be four separate “acts,” successive layers of clothing were shed as she worked her way up to more danceable material. Early on came Deeper and Deeper before a more sensitive moment in Heartbreak City – performed atop a floating spiral staircase. And then, with the words “Nobody f—ks with the queen!” she launched into a quirky, wacky version of Like a Virgin. Soon came S.E.X., more dance music and more stripped down (metaphorically) version of her hits. Who’s That Girl was also rendered acoustically. Dress You Up was recast as a samba.

As for her voice, it’s been joked that Madonna makes a good case in favour of lip-syncing, but while there seemed to be a ton of processing and doubling on the lead vocals, there were lots of moments where she appeared to actually be singing. Imagine. But who comes to a Madonna concert to hear Madonna sing? Of course not. We come for the twerking nuns.

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