Madonna's latest comeback was a minor miracle. (All images by Matthew Rettenmund, unless noted)
With the Supreme Court overturning Roe and Casey, and Clarence Thomas putting in writing his belief that the Court should get rid of marriage equality, gay sex and contraception on the heels of abortion, it feels frivolous writing about Madonna.
But we have to go on, and Madonna is the thinking person's diva — one who has expressly stood up for abortion rights (and was honored for that by Gloria Steinem) and, from the dawn of her career, LGBTQ rights. So, while much of my take on her show last night at NYC's Terminal 5 is escapist, I would like to remind everyone that Madonna is rarely a guilty pleasure. Rather, she has often been a progressive treasure, an inspiration for underdogs of various stripes.
Lately, she's made missteps and — more disheartening — suffered an obvious physical setback, all of which combined to make her feel a bit less like Madonna to some.
One of her best marquees ever!
Following her regrettable appearance onstage with Maluma, I am excited to report that Madonna is bouncing back. I don't have insider info, but it feels to me like after a period of intense personal struggle (not that she would ever play the victim card), she used her club show both to promote the 16-track abridged edition of Finally Enough Love (out today) ahead of the 50-track version due out in August, as well as to get her bearings and to broadcast to her core audience that bitch, she's Madonna ... and always will be.
I was caught #dead in this outfit!
Madonna casually mentioned a June 23 show some time ago on social media, and has hyped the so-called surprise gig ever since, driving hardcore fans crazy. Why? Because it seemed only NFT holders with World of Women would get tickets (and in order to buy NFTs specifically for this event, one would be set back hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars). I begged and begged and not until several hours before show time was I placed on a list.
I'm loyal to World of Wonder first, but ...
I know some were angry about NFT speculators being given priority and about the show being called a Pride show when it was a private party, but in practice, once people showed up (by 10 p.m.) they were allowing people in and were very lax on checking lists. Lots of people with no plus-one got on-the-spot plus-ones, and when we rushed in, the place was empty for quite a time.
It would appear the NFT community snapped up tickets and then bailed, and/or (perhaps more realistically), it was always Madonna's management's plan to leave tons of room for night-of fans to be ushered in.
Bad lighting, drunk by six ... (Image by Anthony Coombs)
First, let me rave about the production of what could easily have been a blown-off club promo. It seemed every inch of Terminal 5 — where I first saw Lady Gaga perform, as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper watched from the balcony — was thoughtfully appointed with neon Madonna signs, slogans and silhouettes, or with newly printed posters of vintage signage. There was a merch bar with exclusive items, but also offering free prints to commemorate the party. Also free: Doughnuts, both sticky and sweet, and burgers. There were even gift bags with a limited-edition Haring lipstick, promo Finally Enough Love shades, rubber bracelets and more.
It was a damn Madonna oasis.
My plus-on and I took some shots with the signage and then parked in front of the stage. The place filled in, but was never a nightmare like it could have been. (I am remembering praying for my own death at the Roxy in 1998, at the Roxy in 2005 and at the Roseland in 2008.) Not only was the place uncharacteristically loose and therefore comfy ... she had the a.c. blasting! And the show began not long after 11 p.m.! Truly, Ms. Ciccone was turning over a new leaf.
The show was so much fun. A joy, really. I had assumed a set of dance songs and boom-bye, but instead, it unfolded more like Broadway Bares, with a series of highly entertaining drag numbers set to the Queen of Pop's best songs.
Every era was visually name-checked.
The show opened with a video montage set to “I Don't Search I Find,” from which the title of Finally Enough Love sprang. Bob the Drag Queen emerged lipping to this and became our host. And let me tell you something — Bob killed. Bob was funny, kept things moving, performed and later danced ably with Madonna. Truly the evening's MVP. (And I think his Michelle Obama look was appropriate considering the politics that were bubbling under us all.)
Next, Violet Chachki did a fabulous burlesque act to “Justify My Love” that segued into some aerial stunts. Her shiny taupe raincoat was a perhaps unintentional hat tip to the Madame X era. (Which is finally over!)
Bob had a fake call with Madonna (whose voice was rendered as a Peanuts teacher's) as if Madonna were still off-site. Hilarious. Whenever Bob called for some prop cleanups, he summoned Madonna's son David, who was decked out in a janitorial outfit and performed intricate dance moves as if he were not the future Prince-apparent of Pop.
Keep in mind, there were low-key pro video cameras shooting all this, and Madonna's ever-present documenter Ricardo Gomes was shooting in the pit.
Tricky Ricardo sneaking some shots without getting in anyone's way
Things really got cooking when “Vogue” played. José Xtravaganza, who was there the beginning of that song's ascent into pop culture history, popped up from the side of the runway and worked his magic, joining a perfectly prepped Laganja Estranja.
Estranja wore an homage to the video's cone bra (UPDATE: It was the original! From the archives!) and to Madonna's 1990-era men's suit.
I'll never tire of representations of “Vogue.”
She looked the part and was serving choreography.
.@josextravaganza, as I told you when you posed for a pic after, you made my night. #Madonna #FinallyEnoughLove pic.twitter.com/Lt2HsPXI0v— Matthew Rettenmund (@mattrett) June 24, 2022
Still ... I couldn't help focusing on José when he hopped in front of a fan and recreated his moves from the music video!
Don't cross Bob on the subway.
Bob returned for some stand-up and a funny lip-synch to various comic monologues, incorporating “Open Your Heart.”
A woman who can hold her own with Madonna (GIF by Matthew Rettenmund)
Changing things up, Dominican rapper Tokischa and Pixie Aventura delivered a scorching, up-to-the-minute rendition of a song I did not know, and out of nowhere, Madonna appeared onstage to gyrate regally (kudos to her female choreographer, who was watching from the pit) as the song turned into an absolutely great new mix of “Hung Up.” Madonna and Tokischa had incredible chemistry, moved well together and — after the queens and their dancers crawled seductively downstage toward us — writhed on top of each other like old friends. The song ended with the hottest kiss Madonna's ever had onstage. Britney was iconic, Drake was ungallant, but Tokischa took the initiative, and after some suggestive licking, she planted a long, real kiss on Madonna, even grabbing that ass that no one is fond of.
I loved it. It felt like passion, and — considering the outfits — cheeky Pride.
“It's a tough job,” Madonna said in New Yawkese, “but somebody has to do it.”
Here, Madonna addressed her fans (and the NFT lunatics — don't get me started on the woman who kept trying to engage me on this topic), joking about her legendary lateness because she was on time for once, telling us, “I'm very happy to see you. It's so great to be here back in the city that never sleeps — New York City.”
Asserting shew as born in NYC, she explained, “This is the city where I was born. I came out of my mother's vagina in Bay City, Michigan, but I was born in New York City!”
She joked that the first-ever queer person emerged from the caves of Central Park — “If you can make it here, then you probably are so queer!” she sang — and called NYC the best place in the world with the best pizza in the world. Out front, Madonna graciously provided free Ciccone Pizza, not to mention free Big Gay Ice Cream. (This food was available to anyone who happened by.)
Bob gave us some “Like a Prayer” with tons of other audio clips before Saucy Santa aired out “Booty” with a troupe that included ... David Banda! Janitor no more.
David is ready to continue the family business.
The girls came out for a spirited take on “Bitch I'm Madonna,” then the curtains parted for a truly inspired duet between Madonna and Saucy on Saucy's “Material Girl.” Madonna was in a new, Gaultier-esque suit-top by — I presume — Demode Couture, while Saucy smartly wore a giant pink bow top that harkened back to Madonna's video. But while there was a dollop of nostalgia, this number was very forward-thinking and without feeling forced.
I think this is what hooked her into doing another hits package: an irresistible excuse to tinker with perfection.
Madonna seemed totally at ease sharing the spotlight, which must have thrilled Saucy. The scantily clad male dancers didn't hurt.
The big finale, after a portion of a famously combative interview with Madonna over her Sex book (interspersed with Faye Dunaway-as-Joan Crawford quotes) and a reminder that Madonna has absolutely no regrets, the stage exploded into colors, with Madonna and her dancers doing the step-kick-kick (this is all we need, Mom) to her should-have-been-a-smash “Celebration.”
Madonna looked fabulous in one of her omnipresent black bustiers and a yellow-and-pink shorts-and-jacket combo. Note that she was wearing nonbinary colors.
While everyone partied onstage, images of queer-rights greats like Marsha P. Johnson flashed overhead, reminding us of the reason for the season.
At the appropriate moment, David joined his mother, as did all the queens of the night, Tokischa and ... even a brief vogueing sequence with José!
At song's end, after thanking us and falling into Bob's arms, Madonna flipped her hair to the side (which is how she wore it to her after-party, held upstairs) and the troupe skipped off to “Holiday.”
It was truly such a joy to see Madonna letting her hair down (and wearing it in a flattering style!), working around any physical limitations to dance and have fun, and even letting herself embrace her legacy and a wee bit of nostalgia.
Billy Eichner — now looking like Chris Isaak — was on hand just days after Mariah Carey intro'd a Bros screening. Diva week!
After, people seemed geeked, so stayed to dance, eat, buy merch, take photos and star-gaze — Jonathan Groff, Zachary Quinto, Austin Wolf and Billy Eichner had been there, Larry Owens showed up, and various NYC downtowners lurked on the fringes.
This was not Madonna at the Roxy or at Brixton, but it was one hell of a palate-cleanser from her Maluma shimmy, and a reminder of why we should — and do — love and support this innovator.
Photo op after a job well-done!
Yes, we ate some on the way out ...
DID I MISS ANYTHING?
P.S. While I have you: If you want to be alerted as soon as my soon-to-be-available Encyclopedia Madonnica update is available, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.