Madonna's The Celebration Tour invites the audience into the artist's world

As Madonna's The Celebration Tour launches at the O2 arena in London, guests are invited to travel through the artist's 40-year-long career and experience her world through music and masterful stage design

Madonna The Celebration Tour dancers
(Image credit: Getty)

Madonna's The Celebration Tour offers fans the chance to immerse themselves into the artist's world, watching the Queen of Pop perform some of her biggest hits; but it also allows them to go one step further - quite literally. The musical extravaganza that is the newest Madonna tour (and the first since Madame X in 2019) launched during the weekend in London. It comes with a specially designed physical set that brings guests closer than ever to the star, as its structure weaves and meanders between seats and spectators. 

Madonna The Celebration Tour set with hanging frame above stage

(Image credit: Getty)

The Celebration Tour: Madonna's world through stage design

It was not the first time the set's designers, London based stage architecture experts Stufish, the brains behind designs such as the ABBA Arena, the U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At Sphere show, and Take That’s tour 2024, worked with Madonna. Kick starting their collaboration in 2012 with the singer's MDNA tour, the team created sets for three more performances since - from larger arena-scale events, to more intimate performances, such as her Madame X tour. This time, however, was different. 

Stufish's Ric Lipson explains: 'We wanted to make it different, not like the past shows, and we also thought about how audiences experience shows right now, there is more immersion. Also, the way Madonna is seen, through video and her social media now for example, has changed. So we thought about making a show about where she is in the room.' 

Madonna The Celebration Tour stage set

(Image credit: Getty)

Stufish collaborated closely with the artist herself, as well as creative director Lewis James, a fresh face in Madonna's production team. James got the call to help with the show, after she spotted his work in New York. ' [When I came in] there was a design in place and we sat and looked over that and we talked about ideas,' he recalls. ' We spoke about the idea of time and all these moments in history. The show revolves around four main ones: Time, New York City, Fragments, and the story of her.' 

Drawing on these elements and the artist's rich, 40-year long career, the stage was conceived as an abstract map of New York, where different songs - and therefore different eras - from Madonna's discography are symbolically performed in specific parts of the set. A network of stages and runways were created to reflect that, inspired by the streets and blocks of Manhattan: there are stages for Uptown, Downtown, Midtown, East and West. 'The stage and the whole show is a living, breathing archive of Madonna’s life,' says James. 'And it’s innocent in its nature, it doesn’t have anything to prove.'

Madonna The Celebration Tour set with screen

(Image credit: Getty)

Taking this concept and making it three dimensional, the designers worked with a kinetic, revolving, three-layered circular central stage - which subtly references the wedding cake from Madonna’s original VMA performance in 1984, as well as the shape of a clock, nodding to the element of time. An internally illuminated window frame helps the singer fly over the audience and move between positions in spectacular style. This is the biggest stage she's ever had, the team points out. 

Madonna The Celebration Tour set with hanging frame

(Image credit: Getty)

Whichever Madonna era is your favourite, this show will not disappoint. All of the musician's different personas make an appearance - from her 1980s tutu skirt-donning wild child character, to the 1990s Erotica-era corsets-wearing seductress and beyond - and for most, there's a stage set to accompany it, punctuated by light, moving image and key props. Her bed from Like a Virgin? Check. The boxing rings from her Sweet & Sticky tour? Also check. Fire rings hinting to the Bedouin phase of her Confessions tour? Check, check, check.  There's also a film by artist artist Gabriel Massan (currently exhibited at the Serpentine Gallery's ongoing show 'Third World'). 'And [throughout the show] there are little 'Easter eggs', triggering people’s memories, abstract interpretations [of points in her life and career],' James says. 

Madonna The Celebration Tour set with fire

(Image credit: Getty)

A highlight - out of many - was the performance of 'Live to Tell', where the singer is floating above the audience, and some 300 photos of people who died during the AIDS epidemic appear on LED screens and projections, and the stage becomes 'a city of portraits,' James explains. 'It’s one of my favourite songs.'

But this is more than just a biographical tour. 'Putting effort on the narrative in stage design helps the artists become the act,' Lipson says. 'And Madonna is a perfectionist.' He continues: 'We create the canvas, the geography, the topography - it’s no different to creating an interior design and then seeing how people occupy it. And of course Lewis gave the tone of the show.' The creative director adds: '[For me] light is a medium that binds it all together. I like to think of my work as space, light and time. And it’s all about the message. It's a journey and a celebration.' 

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).