By Manning Harris

Oprah Winfrey once told Madonna that the megastar wasn’t merely famous, she defined fame.  This  type of renown and success, especially if maintained nearly 30 years as Madonna has done, has its pitfalls as well as its glories. It can arouse enormous and even ridiculous expectations on the part of a performer.  She has long been a lightning rod for all sorts of controversy and well as adulation.

Above all else, Madonna is a showgirl, as she herself has said—and as she proved once again before a sold-out crowd of 20,000 last weekend at Philips Arena.  It didn’t matter that the ticket listed 8pm as the start time and Madonna didn’t appear until 10:30.  (DJ Paul Oakenfold entertained the crowd as the minutes ticked by and the people trickled in; these days it’s a given at big shows that the start time is, to put it mildly, flexible.)

The moment the lights went down and cathedral bells were heard tolling and an atomic sound system rocked the house and the icon appeared, all tardiness was forgiven.  In the almost two hours that followed Madonna and company had the crowd in the palm of their hands.

The show was ostensibly a showcase for her latest album, “MDNA,” but the most electric moments occurred when Madonna dipped into her vast catalog of hits such as “Express Yourself,” “Vogue,” and especially the penultimate number, “Like a Prayer.”  This song has taken on an almost mystical power (go ahead and laugh—I was there) to affect an audience; the song builds and builds; the dancers don gospel choir robes, and the entire audience is on their feet, smiling and swaying:  it’s nirvana, gentle reader.  I’m not kidding.

While much of the evening was a showcase for the new album, numbers such as “Girl Gone Wild,” “Turn Up the Radio,” “I’m a Sinner,” and “Masterpiece” were given super productions, but it’s the numbers of yore (“Papa Don’t Preach,” “Like a Virgin,” “Lucky Star,” “Ray of Light,” and “Hung Up”)  that the audience loved best.

Te technical production values were high.  The lights, the incredible visual effects, the sound, the dancing, the effortless flow of the show—it’s almost unbelievable how the Material Girl can still set the bar so high.  Madonna’s voice had a crystal clarity and strength—it has never sounded better.

People have strong opinions about this woman; some have said she’s past her prime and she should  just hang it up.  Anyone who saw the show I saw Saturday night would say that’s pure foolishness or age prejudice. I would say that Madonna is a consummate professional (the showgirl, remember?) as a performer, drawing on her experience and training in dance, art, songwriting, and singing.  (Yes, others may have better voices; she’s said that herself) it’s the total package that takes your breath away.  To see this performance artist live is an unforgettable experience.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.