Joanne Tour: Arena Theatre

Lady Gaga’s current concert outing, the Joanne World Tour, is a theatrical experience like few I’ve ever seen before. I’d previously attended the Oklahoma City engagement of her Little Monsters tour, which was raw, prop-heavy, and in many ways experimental. The Joanne show, however, was a polished work of art, pulling aesthetic inspiration, staging technique, and technical special effects from the worlds of theatre and opera, in addition to the traditional rock-concert fare. The music was top-shelf, the message was progressive, and the entire production was put together with a level of sophistication that I never expected.

Everyone knows that Lady Gaga is an incredible singer. You may not like her pop-rock melodies or occasionally paper-thin lyrics, but her vocal technique is superb. Her voice quality the night of the concert was astonishingly clear. From beginning to the end of the two-hour concert, she sounded healthy, dynamic, and I never once heard her intonation falter. Of course, I’ve seen or known many singers who can go on for hours and never sound tired, but this was something different, as if the entire concert was one warm-up exercise after another, starting strong and getting stronger all the way, building up to a full-voiced finale. Deb Voigt is still my homegirl when it comes to the best live singing I’ve ever heard, but you can’t compare apples to oranges, or in this case, ripe avocados to coffee with Splenda.

During the Little Monsters tour, Gaga’s message was all about loving yourself and being true to your gifts. That line of dialogue was still present in the Joanne concert script but had moved to a more forward-thinking place. Sure, she made shout-outs to the LGBTQ community, but also checked on the parents and friends of the young-and-questioning, thanking them for the support, and asking for a pledge from the audience to love everyone, even if you disagree with them. I was bowled over, I must say. A message of compassion for our adversaries is incredibly important, but not one that you hear major celebrities spouting so publically. I hope that this becomes a more prominent message among pop culture influencers, just as the “born this way” message has become much more matter-of-fact in some circles than it was when the single came out.

Lady Gaga Joanne Tour

The thing about her concert that I just can’t stop thinking about, though, was the staging. Performed in an arena-style venue, one end had been capped with a stage, making it more of a thrust. However, the ends of the horseshoe-shaped seating curved partially upstage of the main platform, and because of this, the entire show was blocked in the round. I’ve been to arena/thrust/in-the-round music concerts where the staging killed the show for many sections of the audience. I had neck cramps after seeing both Michael Buble and Barry Manilow, and I’d insist that Barry for sure should have insisted on better blocking. Not the case with Gaga! She was aware of the entire circle of the audience at every given moment, acting with all parts of her body from her hands to her hair. Even though the entire arena floor was full of people, hydraulic platforms raised up to connect with floating bridges that soared downward from the ceiling. She walked, danced, and sang across the Chutes-and-Ladders inspired set. She made her way to the downstage end and parked for a multi-song set, occasionally joined by an army of dancers. A front row experience for everyone who bought a ticket, just as it should be. At one point, she road a floating bridge up to the ceiling for a costume change, the floated back down, literally never missing a beat.

In the car on the way home, I said to my husband, “If I ever decide to do Brigadoon, (Which, who wants to really do Brigadoon?), I have to have those flying bridges. Imagine it: Brigadoon The Arena Tour. I wonder if Shirley Manson and Sheena Easton are available to play Fiona and Meg.

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