Review: Madonna brings a heartfelt, personal touch to her Miami concert

Madonna performs at AmericanAirlines Arena during her Rebel Heart Tour. Photo: MATIAS J. OCNER

By now, Madonna’s fans know what to expect from one of her concerts: plenty of high-energy dancing, clever thematic vignettes, impressive stage props, colorful costumes and an eclectic set list that draws from highlights throughout her entire career.

Such a production demands precision, above all, with every performer having to know exactly when and where to be. There is precious little room for either improvisation or spontaneity, except for during carefully scripted moments (which kind of comically defeats the whole purpose).

But on Saturday night at a packed AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami, Madonna managed to deviate from the mostly rigid set list and staged theatrics of her Rebel Heart Tour to add a heartfelt, personal touch for her onetime hometown crowd.

The show – part of the global icon’s 10th major tour – was in support of Madonna’s 13th studio album, “Rebel Heart,” and the still-spry-at-57 megastar showed off her well-documented rebellious side from the start, opening with a salacious video of her in a sequined ball gown trapped in a cage while guards who looked like they were flown in straight from the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle marched onstage. Madonna then descended dramatically in a medieval-looking cage to perform her fun-loving new anthem “Bitch, I’m Madonna” while surrounded by sexed-up geisha girls.

It was just one of many tracks from “Rebel Heart” that Madonna would perform on the night. Ever the musical chameleon, the Queen of Pop’s new release features her most progressive sound yet, with almost half the album’s tracks produced by either dubstep king Diplo or EDM superstar Avicii, and the ones that aren’t are just as cutting-edge. 

The performances were over-the-top as well. During “Holy Water,” which featured four dancers wearing nun’s habits on their heads and not much else, Madonna climbed up a stripper pole and actually stood on a fellow female dancer before integrating the rap from her classic hit “Vogue” into the song.  Later, during “Rebel Heart,” several guys donning top hats and tails climbed 12-foot poles and swayed back and forth so severely that they could almost touch audience members, an amazing feat that any circus would covet.

“Living For Love” featured Madonna as toreador, fighting off dancers wearing bullhorns with red capes, while “Body Shop” re-created a ‘50s-style auto mechanics store, with stacked tires and a “West Side Story” theme, after which Madonna first addressed the crowd.

“We’re bringing the heat to Miami – it’s been a little chilly, right?” she said. “It’s all about the Miami heat – that’s why I used to live here. I don’t know why I don’t live here anymore, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. You know, me and Miami, we go way back. I got stories you would never believe.” 

One of the best sequences featured Madonna’s beloved tune “La Isla Bonita” with her “gypsy” band, complete with accordion, acoustic guitar, castanets, bongos and flamenco-style dancing, followed by a sensual, slowed-down medley of “Dress You Up,” “Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star,” all powered by the same groovy bassline.

Ironically, some of the biggest highlights of the night were the least-produced numbers: a sweet, romantic version of “True Blue,” featuring Madonna strumming a ukulele; a very stripped-down “Like a Virgin,” with just Madonna onstage, dancing alone, without even the keyboard riffs; an acoustic version of “Who’s That Girl” with only Madonna and her acoustic guitar (which showed her true talent as showman); and a charming take on Edith Piaf’s French classic “La vie en rose,” again with Madonna on ukulele and in fine vocal form.

But the real surprise of the night came when Madonna took on a true blast from the past: “I want to sing this song, and there aren’t too many cities I can sing it in,” she said before launching into a passionate rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar player, a song from her role as Eva Peron in the film “Evita.”

After the cheers died down, Madonna said, “I’ve been dying to sing that song the entire tour – that’s the first time.” 

The fitting finale featured Madonna draped in an American flag and red top hat singing one of her early club hits, “Holiday,” along with 20 or so festively dressed dancers, a feel-good ending to a decidedly feel-good show.