At 54, Madonna’s still got it: Breast baring in Turkey, mooning in Italy, and supporting gay rights and Pussy Riot in Russia

Whatever you think of her—that is, if you think of her at all—there can be no denying that Madonna’s current MDNA tour show is spectacular. Though short of Stones-Age, the 54-year-old icon is still long past her performing prime, yet remains Jagger-like in her ability to work a huge arena/stadium stage for two hours, in her case with incredible solo and ensemble dance routines.

Madonna being Madonna, of course, controversy has accompanied the concerts. Her support in Russia of gay rights and Pussy Riot, breast-baring in Turkey and mooning in Italy—then doing both in France along with flashing a swastika on a video image of France’s National Front party leader Marine Le Pen—made more headlines than the music.

In Israel she went so far as to point a rifle at the audience at the start of the show, then justified her lack of love with a peaceful plea: “All the conflicts that occur here and have been occurring for a thousand years, they have to stop. We all bleed the same color. No matter how many percentages of land we give back, no matter how many talks, no matter how many wars, if we don’t treat every human being with dignity and respect, we will never have peace.”

True enough, but in New York earlier this month for two sell-outs at Yankee Stadium, she felt compelled to issue a sometimes poetic, often meandering “manifesto” in trying to explain the shockingly graphic gun violence enacted at the start of the show to go with opening songs “Girl Gone Wild,” “Revolver” and “Gang Bang.”

Her show, she claimed, represents “the journey of a soul from darkness to light…anger to love” via spectacle and performance art. The gunplay? Merely symbolic, yielding to the “innate and pure love inside us all [that] we have to find a way to tap into.”

Whatever. She hoped viewers would leave feeling inspired to go out and make the world a better place. The Sept. 10 Yankee Stadium show, it must be said, did in fact end on an inspiring note, with “Like A Prayer” performed with a full gospel chorus.



Diva reveals she’s had over 50 operatic roles during New York public TV anniversary celebration

Speaking of divas, Renée Fleming, speaking at a panel discussion last week celebrating New York public TV station WNET’s 50th anniversary at the Paley Center for Media, tallied 54 different operatic roles in her career, attributing her and her fellow vocal greats’ stardom to “10 percent talent, 90 percent effort,” as well as resilience, stamina, facial structure and accompanying “resonance cavities.”

WNET’s Great Performances At The Met, by the way, is running The Metropolitan Opera’s spectacular Robert Lepage production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, featuring the extraordinary set made up of the 45-ton contraption of 24 planks that rotate independently in providing varying surfaces for the characters to perform in all sorts of poses—as well as to screen objects and substances including stones, water and fire. Also showing is award-winning filmmaker Susan Froemke’s “making-of” documentary Wagner’s Dream; Froemke won a Grammy in 2001 for directing and producing Recording ‘The Producers’: A Musical Romp With Mel Brooks.


Texas trio becomes a foursome as rescue canine prances onstage

But here’s some real news you can use: ZZ Top is now a quartet! That’s right, that little ol’ band from Texas became a foursome last week at New York’s Beacon Theatre when new band dog GiZZmo came out at the end for the final encore “Tush,” then romped merrily around original members Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard as they took their bows.

Turns out the little guy is Beard’s rescue dog and goes everywhere with the band. “He sits on top of one of the cases and starts quivering at the end of ‘La Grange,’ then howls all the way through ‘Tush’ until he runs out and prances around like a little horse,” said Gibbons.

The band’s Beacon show capped three days of intensive promotion in New York for new album La Futura—their first new studio set in nine years, and an excellent return to form. On Monday, the group did press and a concert for iHeart Radio; Tuesday brought more press, an in-store signing at J&R Music and a John Varvatos/Chrysler/GQ-sponsored party in Soho attended by Howard Stern. Wednesday came The Beacon, where the set also included the new album’s “I Gotsta Get Paid,” but could have benefited from “Chartreuse”—if for no other reason than the title rhymes lyrically with “big caboose.”


Dolly Parton launches own line
of slot machines

Not to deliberately close with an obvious segue, but Dolly Parton now has her own line of slot machines. Dolly Parton Video Slots, along with the Two Doors Down and Nine To Five spinning reel games, come from computerized gaming equipment supplier IGT and feature, says the press release, “interactive juke-box-style song selections, big bonus action and front-row concert experiences all with Dolly cheering the player along.”

“As you know, I love doing lots of different things and this is the most different thing that I’ve done so far,” said Parton. Indeed.



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