Lady Gaga, MEN Arena, Manchester

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The Independent Culture

It is a brave artist who bins her stage show midway through her first arena tour, but Lady Gaga is nothing if not a perfectionist and her gamble pays off on this first date of her European leg.

Monster Ball has wowed North American crowds this winter, but Gaga has changed the show into "more of a musical than a concert". Over four acts, a story unfolds – the star and her chums gets lost en route to a party.

Stephen Sondheim need not suffer sleepless nights – this spectacle has more in common with burlesque than Broadway. Monster Ball is the summation of Gaga's pop confection, extrapolating her outlandish fashion sense into a whole stage show. Polished chrome scaffolding is used to represent cityscape, subway and enchanted forest while the artist's costumes grow more fabulous, from kinky nun to Leigh Bowery overload.

It is, though, mere window dressing for Gaga's unremitting party soundtrack. Even before she won three Brit awards this week, her tour had the feel of a victory procession. She made 2009 her own, shifting four million copies of her debut album, The Fame.

Gaga has achieved four No 1 singles by sticking to a template of R'n'B beats with catchy pop hooks which offers few reminders of the cabaret artist who struggled to make an impact in New York clubs. Maybe recognition came too easily for Stefani Germanotta, and Monster Ball is an attempt to restate her arty credentials. Videos shown between set and costume changes fail to fill the time, leaving awkward longeurs, but the cast are expert enough to cope. Band and dancers form a constant whirl of New York movement.

Gaga displays a powerful singing voice not readily apparent on the album. She is full-throated on the pumping anthems, with an underlay of Big Apple grit. A soulful flavour comes through when she sits behind a piano for "Speechless", one of the darker tracks on the Fame Monster deluxe version of her album. "This is for my father," she says, "who loves Johnnie Walker more than he loves me."

When Gaga finally reaches the Monster Ball, she is faced by a 20ft tentacled monster. It is an utterly gobsmacking finale that might form a commentary on her swift rise to fame.

Touring to 5 March (