Multi-image Madonna pushes star power to hilt

Madonna has more of that old-fashioned, 1940s ``star'' aura than any other performer on the pop music scene today. In her appearance here at Madison Square Garden last week - part of her current ``Who's That Girl?'' tour, timed to promote her forthcoming film of the same title - she acted, danced, and sang effectively. But it was her image - that star persona - as much as her music, that really lit up the show. Throughout the evening she gave the audience an eyeful, from the scanty vamp costume in her opening number, to the little-boy suit she donned to dance with a little-boy partner, to the gold jacket, fedora, and tough look she put on in ``White Heat,'' with its lavish set of machine-gun-toting cardboard figures and its dance numbers elaborate enough to grace a Broadway stage.

There was little of her so-called ``Marilyn Monroe look,'' except on a couple of ballads. But she did trot out one very funny costume - a red crinoline dress decked with giant-size dice, grapes, and pinwheels, and topped off with a weird red hat and comical black eyelash sunglasses. She's a natural comedienne and has no trouble laughing at herself. One gets the feeling she can change her look with impunity, because her personal charisma and stage presence remain intact.

Madonna sang her hits - among them ``True Blue,'' ``Where's the Party,'' ``Papa Don't Preach,'' ``Like a Virgin,'' and ``La Isla Bonita'' - reminding this listener that she's achieved stardom without yet having recorded all that many songs. From her first album (``Madonna'') to her current one (``True Blue''), there have been no dramatic changes in her musical style. What has changed somewhat is the voice, which is darker and richer than it was on the first album.

Her audiences have done some maturing, too, at least to judge from the one here at Madison Square Garden. Although they're still on the youngish side, I didn't see even one 11-year-old Madonna clone. Concertgoers should be forewarned, though: They may have to spend most of the evening standing on their chairs if they want to see the star.

Madonna milked her ballads for every conceivable ounce of drama, especially ``Live to Tell,'' which ended with her crumpled on the stage just behind the footlights, only to rise, phoenixlike, with a big crescendo from the band while the lights faded to black.

Madonna's band played energetically and flawlessly. Three vocalists provided excellent backup and joined effectively in some dance routines. The only technical flaws in the entire program were on a couple of songs where Madonna came in grossly out of tune.

Madonna has been quoted as saying that this will be her last tour, but seeing a show like this one makes that hard to believe.

Remaining tour dates: San Francisco (tonight and tomorrow), Houston (Friday), Minneapolis (July 29), Detroit (Aug. 6-7), and New York Giants Stadium (Aug. 9-10).

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