Madonna finds a new package for old themes

We've come to expect a few things from Madonna's live stage shows: energetic dance routines, quick changes of breathtaking costumes, more than a whiff of sexual innuendo, startling imagery - in short, a whole sound-and-light spectacle.

We've come to expect a few things from Madonna's live stage shows: energetic dance routines, quick changes of breathtaking costumes, more than a whiff of sexual innuendo, startling imagery ­ in short, a whole sound-and-light spectacle.

All the elements were in place as the 45-year-old happily married mother-of-two kicked off her first world tour in three years. Madonna strutted her stuff for two hours before a sell-out crowd at the Forum in Los Angeles on Monday night, thumping her way through 22 numbers that spanned her 20-year back catalogue.

"Re-Invention", the show was called. But really, it was more of a re-tooling, a restatement of familiar themes and ideas in a glossy new package.

In an obvious nod to world events, she donned combat fatigues, and had dancers dressed up as soldiers doing push-ups and calisthenics to a video backdrop of whirring helicopters and explosions. This, though, was little more than a stage rendition of the much-discussed video she produced for last year's album, American Life.

Still, she pushed the theme as far as it would go. At one point, she offered a cover of John Lennon's "Imagine", with images of sick and injured children projected behind her. In another sequence, she used footage of two boys, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, walking arm in arm. A world gone half-crazy was only one element of an eclectic show, however. Madonna stepped out at the beginning in a jewel-encrusted corset. Later on, she performed a suggestive tango with one of her female dancers. Her song "Like a Prayer" was given the gospel treatment, while "Papa Don't Preach" was given a distinctively Scottish flavour, complete with kilts and a bagpiper.

The singer's interest in the spiritual philosophy of the Jewish Kabbalah also received an airing, with untranslated Hebrew text scrolled behind her.

The Los Angeles debut is the start of a 50-date tour of North America and Europe, including six nights in London in August. Rumours were swirling yesterday over her decision to cancel three planned stops in Israel, with various newspapers suggesting she had received specific threats against her and her two children Lourdes, seven, and Rocco, three. That, though, appeared to be an overheated interpretation of events. Madonna told the US programme Access Hollywood that her managers had been overwhelmed by thesecurity implications. Asked if she had been personally threatened, she answered: "No. If I had my way, I'd go. My manager wouldn't let me."

Putting together a Madonna tour is no mean feat, which might explain why there hasn't been one since the "Drowned World" extravaganza in 2001. This time around, she has five on-stage musicians, a dozen dancers and more than 100 other roadies, managers, publicity staff and personal assistants. Designers commissioned to produce her wardrobe include Jean-Paul Gaultier, plus Stella McCartney, Christian Lacroix, Prada and Chanel.

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