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February 16, 1998

Maharani Girl

Madonna came back to where it all began for her ^ New York's clubland ^ and was welcomed with open arms and rose petals Saturday night. Fans began packing the Roxy nightclub at 10 p.m. and waited four hours for the diminutive diva ^ who's pushing her new album "Ray of Light" ^ to come onstage.

The pop legend, who'll turn 40 this year, appeared at 2 a.m. wearing a long black chiffon cape, which she quickly removed to reveal she is still immersed in her Kama Sutra look. Tripping down the same path The Beatles explored in the 1960s, the Maharani Mama wore Mendhi tattoos on her hands, heavy black kohl eye makeup, and a long, sheer sari-like skirt with sheer mesh top, along with gold glitter in her loose hair.

The chords struck up on her title track, and "she was dancing like crazy onstage, like in the '80s," said one delighted 23-year-old in the front row. "She was reaching out and touching people's hands."

At one point the performer, looking in perfect shape but less pumped up than in past incarnations, yelled, "It's time for my solo!" She fell to her knees and strummed air guitar, to the delight of Rod Stewart, Boy George and the rest of the crowd. One devoted fan tossed bags and bags of rose petals over her, much to her delight.

Madonna, who hasn't toured in five years, did four songs, including a Sanskrit-like chant. Her set lasted 30 minutes, and the new mother then went home.

Earlier in the evening, she held an intimate pre-party with about a dozen friends and daughter Lourdes.