It was a stressful summer for Madonna fans. Just weeks before her 78-stop career-retrospective Celebration World Tour was set to kick off in North America, the singer was rushed to a New York City hospital for a severe bacterial infection that prompted her to cancel that continent’s dates. But the 65-year-old icon and mother of six isn’t known as the hardest-working woman in show business for nothing, and on Saturday, she reclaimed the stage to rave reviews.
Madonna’s stop at London’s 20,000-seat O2 arena had been on the books since tour plans began, but when her health scare paused her Celebration schedule, Oct. 14 became its de facto kickoff date. This is her 13th tour, and her first since 2020; as the name promises, it’s intended as a celebration of her four decades of hits. An opening-night set list captured by Billboard suggests that the show lived up to its name: early songs like “Holiday” and “Burning Up,” career highs such as “Like a Prayer” and Vogue,” and 2000s-era entries like “Music” and “Bitch I’m Madonna” all made an appearance.
Of course, fans had to wait a bit to hear those hits. Technical difficulties meant the show was delayed by 30 minutes, the New York Times reports. Four songs in, yet another delay, prompting Madonna to say, “This is exactly what you don’t want to happen on your opening night, so this wasn’t planned. I’m sorry,” AFP reports.
While her crew worked to restore order, she regaled the crowd with some early-career anecdotes, including her days of housing struggles. “I had no way to take a bath,” she said of her younger days in New York. “So I would actually date men who had showers and bathrooms. Those were the days, and that is the truth.”
“I’m pretty damned surprised that I made it this far, and I mean that on so many levels. How did I make it this far? Because of you. I’m going to take a bit of credit, too.”
She also addressed her June health crisis, saying, “It was a crazy year for me and I didn’t think I was going to make it. I forgot five days of my life.”
“But the angels were protecting me and my children were there and my children always save me every time. And if you want to know a secret as to how I survived, I thought, ‘I have to survive for them. I have to survive for my children.’”
The hotly-anticipated show was met by critical praise—not a given for the star, who noted Saturday that “To age is to sin. I think the most controversial thing I’ve done is to stick around.” According to The Independent’s critic, Helen Brown, “I’ve sat through a couple of Madonna’s more robotic stadium shows in the past, feeling as though I was bearing witness to a seven-figure PowerPoint presentation from Brand Madonna. But at 65, the woman who once sang of wanting to “conquer and deliver and despise” the world has a renewed appetite for human connection.”
Writing for the BBC, Mark Savage says that Madonna “looked and sounded incredible throughout, moving from one elaborate set-piece to the next with conviction and power.” Variety’s Mark Sutherland agrees, writing, “Madonna still doesn’t know how to quit, boy, has she learned how to come back.”
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