MADONNA’S Tears of a Clown show was the sort of thing you never thought you’d see a superstar do.
After the two-hour show finished just before 3am, many fans were leaving Melbourne’s Forum Theatre thinking “What did I just see?” And also wondering “How do I get home?”
As promised, Madonna delivered a mix of music, comedy and storytelling. Just on her own Madonnatime.
The perfectionist was rehearsing the show until 11pm, leaving fans waiting outside — in the rain — until just after midnight when doors opened.
Fans at the front of the queue had been sleeping out from Monday. They expected she would be late, but not *this* late.
Yet once inside, for diehard Madonna fans, it was a show they could only dream of.
For anyone else, competition winners or invited guests, it was tough going, with some leaving either before doors open to get the last train home or when they realised it wasn’t going to be a greatest hits show — something she’s never done.
Instead those who won free tickets through her fan club got to see Madonna at her most raw and vulnerable.
With no choreographed routines, no back-up dancers and a stripped down version of her usual band, Madonna played many songs she’s never performed live before.
Dressed as a clown and riding a tiny bicycle, Madonna prefaced the show by saying it was a “work in progress”, a fact she referred to several times during the night.
“I want to make a disclaimer,” she said. “If anyone thinks they came here to see a finished final show, there’s the door. This is some brand spanking new sh–. I don’t know if you like it raw.
“I’ve had this idea in my head for this show Tears of a Clown which is a combination of music and storytelling. Because at the end of the day I do think of myself as a story teller. But it’s rough as f—, so bear with me and give me all the support you can. It’s from the heart. I chose to debut this work in progress, this rough rehearsal, here in Australia because I feel so bad about cancelling on you guys the last time. I’m sorry. You’ve been so patient, you waited for so long, I feel like I owe you a present, so this is your present.”
That’s what made it fascinating — and difficult — to watch. We’re not used to Madonna on stage doing anything less than a fully rehearsed, slick stage show.
This was Madonna at her most raw and vulnerable. As she played several sad songs in a row, including an Elliott Smith cover (Between the Bars), she told fans “I didn’t say this was going to be a cheerful show.”
For much of the show, Madonna was in sad clown mode.
The shadow of her custody battle for son Rocco was like the circus elephant in the room. Some fans thought she might cancel the Australian leg of the Rebel Heart tour, rather Madonna is going on with the show, but unveiling her human side more than ever.
Madonna dedicated the song Intervention, from American Life, to her estranged son, singing with pictures of him, including a baby photo, behind her.
“There’s no end to the mistakes I’ve made … Everybody knows the saga of me and my son Rocco. It’s not a fun story to tell or think about.
“I probably could have enjoyed myself a little bit more on this tour if he hadn’t disappeared so suddenly, and also if I knew when I would see him again. I want to dedicate this next song to Rocco.”
The song’s lyrics start with “I’ve got to save my baby … I know that love will keep us together.”
The singer’s voice was emotional, with fans shouting out messages of support.
Unlike regular Madonna concerts, the singer seemed relaxed. Her keyboard player fired off sound effects from canned laughter to drum rolls after jokes, while Madonna honked a clown horn occasionally.
Despite appearing a little unsteady and slurry at times, Madonna told fans she wasn’t drunk, but requested alcohol on stage.
“One thing I want to do that I haven’t done before is drink on stage,” she said, before two dancers delivered a cosmopolitan. Unfortunately for them, they were the two dancers, Aya and Bambi, responsible for yanking her cape at last year’s Brit Awards. “They’re very strong,” Madonna noted.
However Madonna was quick to point out she never drinks during her tightly-choreographed arena shows.
“You think I could get through my big show drunk? Hell no.”
The jokes? Madonna’s always displayed a fairly twisted sense of humour, and most of them can’t be repeated here. Comedian Dawn French was in the audience and stayed until the bitter end of 2.50am, so make of that what you will.
Comedy is not Madonna’s strong suit, at least not yet. She fired off random jokes rather than a structured stand-up routine, and it must be said she was wisecracking to the converted.
But hearing her chat about her life between songs was another rarity for fans.
Putting up photos of her ex-husband Sean Penn chasing paparazzi, she opened up about his brushes with the law over clashing with photographers.
“He did some time in jail when we were married. I went to go visit him in a maximum-security prison. He was in protective custody and he his cell was right next to Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker.”
Madonna then talked about how mass murderer Ramirez “was kind of good-looking — I guess that’s how he seduced all these women” and how groupies lined up at the jail to come see him.
“Every time I would go to see my husband there was just me, thank God, because I would kill any bitch waiting … he had a whole gaggle of groupies with the shortest shorts and no underpants on. Even serial killers have groupies. We live in a weird, weird world.”
Fans may have got a glimpse into her working hours when the music icon said she usually goes to sleep at 6am.
She addressed her late stage times by noting “I’m not making any money on this tour because of all my late fines.”