Madonna Crucifies Herself In L.A. Tour Opener

Madonna launched her first world tour in two years on Sunday, delighting an enthusiastic Los Angeles crowd by suspending herself from a cross, insulting President George W. Bush and dusting off some o

Madonna launched her first world tour in two years on Sunday, delighting an enthusiastic Los Angeles crowd by suspending herself from a cross, insulting President George W. Bush and dusting off some of the sexy moves that have sustained her career for more than 20 years.

The "Confessions" tour will keep her on the road for two months in North America, and then resume on July 30 in Wales for a five-week stadium swing through eight European cities. Shows in Japan are on tap for mid-September.

The 47-year-old dance diva spent two hours churning out most of the tunes from her new album, "Confessions on a Dancefloor," as well as a few old hits such as "Like a Virgin," "Ray of Light" and "Lucky Star."

The audience at the Los Angeles Forum included Madonna's Kabbalah guru Rabbi Yehuda Berg, socialite Nicole Richie and TV icon Rosie O'Donnell.

The meticulously choreographed Vegas-style routine began 50 minutes late when a giant mirror ball was lowered from the ceiling to the end of a catwalk stretching deep into the floor. Out popped Madonna, in S&M-styled riding gear and whip, singing the new tune "Future Lovers" as four bare-chested male dancers writhed around with ball gags in their mouths.

Later on, she donned a crown of thorns and suspended herself from a giant mirrored cross to deliver the ballad "Live to Tell." Video screens showed images of third-world poverty and reeled off grim statistics.

During one of her half-dozen costume changes, another video montage juxtaposed images of Bush, members of his administration and British Prime Minister Tony Blair with footage of Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden and Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Midway through the new song "I Love New York," she deviated from the script and made a crude reference to Bush and oral sex.

Beyond that, she barely spoke to the audience, largely focusing on keeping control of a busy nightclub-style stage that boasted 15 dancers, four musicians and three backing vocalists. For the most part, she joined in the tricky choreography, her voice evidently not affected by the aerobic workout. She did pause for a few songs during which she appeared to play electric guitar.

A disco segment near the end, where she dressed in a "Saturday Night Fever"-style white suit to perform "Music" thrilled the crowd, as did the "Like a Virgin" routine, when she climbed aboard a carousel-style black leather saddle.

There was no encore, and the lights came up as soon as she had completed a medley of "Lucky Star" and latest hit single "Hung Up" while sporting an illuminated white cape with "Dancing Queen" embroidered on the back.

Billboard has projected ticket sales in the $200 million range, which would make this the highest grossing tour by a female artist. Cher holds the record with $192.5 million from 273 shows on a "farewell" world tour that began in June 2002 and lasted almost three years.

Madonna, on the other hand, is scheduled to play fewer than 60 dates on this tour. Her $125 million-grossing Re-Invention tour in 2004 and the $75 million Drowned trek in 2001 were also relatively brief.

What catapults Madonna to the top of the box office list is her ticket price, topping out at $380 (including Ticketmaster fees) in most U.S. venues. However, this did not stop her from adding dates to accommodate demand.
er on the road for two months in North America, and then resume on July 30 in Wales for a five-week stadium swing through eight European cities. Shows in Japan are on tap for mid-September.

COPYRIGHT: (c) Reuters 2006. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.