Fans lined up and paid dearly for tickets to Madonna's Drowned World Tour

The blindly optimistic kept the local radio station on speed dial. The truly desperate emptied their bank accounts. The legally insane slept on sidewalks. All summer long, people were pulling out the stops for a ticket (or two, or three) granting them 100 minutes with a gyrating, high-flying, gun-toting Madonna.

Mounting her first tour in eight years, our 43-year-old Ms. Ritchie proved she could still get into the groove with her hellzapoppin’ spectacle known as Drowned World 2001.

The 17-city, 47-date international trek — most of whose shows sold out in under an hour (raking in an impressive $74 million) — was hardly short on highlights. The versatile Mo played an electric guitar, rode a mechanical bull, wore a kimono with a 52-foot wingspan, flew around the stage dressed as an anime warrior with a trendy pair of split-toe Nikes, and, for chrissakes, displayed arms so buff even the hardcore gym bunnies in the crowd seethed with envy. Madonna showed, once again, that the stage is her world, and her army of fans happily played captive audience.

Witness the motley crews that turned up at her July 21 Stateside debut in Philly sporting such Madonna B.C. (before children) looks as jelly bracelets, wedding gowns, and cone bras. Let your heart break for those poor New Jersey shlubs who missed out on their date with Madge when she canceled one Garden State show due to a bout with laryngitis.

Soon after celebrating her birthday on stage in Miami, Mo traveled to Detroit, where she allowed the ticketless masses to get a glimpse of her show via HBO (notching boffo ratings). And just 48 hours after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she performed at L.A.’s tightly secured Staples Center (sporting an American flag skirt), announced the donation of the show’s proceeds to victims’ funds, and reminded the crowd that ”violence begets violence.”

Throughout her tour, some critics bared their claws (bemoaning the show’s lack of ’80s-era classics as if expecting a farewell performance), but the crowds were with her all the way. ”She’s so rich and so famous and so up there,” says longtime backup singer Donna De Lory, who was marking her fourth consecutive tour with Madonna. But the fans ”still feel this personal connection with her. They really feel like they have a relationship.”

Speaking of relationships, Madonna mania reached such a crescendo that one Manhattan adman, Adam Levine, gained national attention by taking advantage of his spare ticket to find Mr. Right via his ”Be My Date for the Madonna Concert” contest. Unfortunately, the only thing Levine learned from the experience was the power of goodbye. ”I was hoping to find my Sean Penn,” recalls Levine, ”but at best, I got Vanilla Ice.” And you thought the $250 ticket prices were painful.