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BACK IN THE SADDLE MADONNA DOESN'T MISS A STEP - OR THE BEAT - DURING TOUR KICKOFF.

Byline: Fred Shuster Music Writer

Madonna's new world tour kicked off Sunday at the Forum, and the Church of England immediately weighed in with a bad review -- something about the singer wearing a crown of thorns while being crucified on a mirrored cross.

It was a spectacularly exciting two-hour show, packed with sinewy, skin-baring dancers, fine singing, some of the best dance music of the decade and one of the most memorable stage entrances in memory. And it included a scene where Madonna -- age 47 and the mother of two -- sang the ballad ``Live to Tell'' suspended from a giant cross.

Of course, Maddy has always used Christian imagery to provoke. These days, though, she's no longer the polarizing figure she once was -- that honor now belongs to Tom Cruise -- and the 18,000-strong Inglewood crowd didn't raise an eyebrow.

Ironically, the Forum is now owned by the Faithful Central Bible Church, which normally holds its services there on Sundays. The ushers, though, seemed more interested in the writhing dancers.

Madonna's elaborately staged ``Confessions'' road show, which occupied a gigantic high-tech T-shaped stage, took in 22 songs from all aspects of her career, thematically broken into four sections.

The tightly choreographed concert began 50 minutes late when a giant crystal disco ball was lowered from the ceiling to the end of a long catwalk stretching deep into the audience floor. Out popped Madonna, a dominatrix in jodhpurs, top hat and snapping a jeweled riding crop, delivering the recent ``Future Lovers,'' surrounded by topless male dancers.

Madonna was in thrilling, nonstop-action mode, strutting up and down the catwalk, crawling on all fours, offering some expert pelvic thrusts and holding attention all around. The singing was strong, the material well chosen, and accompaniment by a top-notch seven-member ensemble was solid.

The dozen or so dancers had as many costume changes as the headliner herself, and Cirque du Soleil-style gymnasts worked out on platforms while massive video screens showed images of war, world leaders, horses ... and Madonna.

But while it was a perfect, flashy Hollywood production, there seemed to be little room for ad libs, although Madonna did throw in some expletives to urge a sing-along during the roof-raising finale of her current disco anthem, ``Hung Up,'' as mylar balloons fell onto the crowd.

While she played almost every song from her current ``Confessions on a Dance Floor'' release, the crowd went especially crazy for old favorites, including ``Like a Virgin,'' when Madonna climbed onto a carousel horse, which raised and lowered while the singer gyrated.

Madonna's ``Confessions'' tour continues tonight and Wednesday at the Forum before moving to Staples Center on June 3.

Fred Shuster, (818) 713-3676

fred.shuster(at)dailynews.com

MADONNA - Four stars

Where: Forum, Inglewood.

When: 8 tonight and Wednesday.

Also June 3 at Staples Center.

Tickets: Sold out, try brokers. (213) 480-3232, ticketmaster.com.

In a nutshell: Madonna's first tour in years is a Vegas-style disco celebration filled with eye-popping imagery, lots of costumes and high-energy dance music.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) The Forum, where Madonna is beginning her world tour, is now owned by a church, which didn't seem to mind the singer's own Sunday message.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 23, 2006
Words:537
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