It's time to take Madonna seriously.

Ever since she emerged from the New York disco scene five years ago, Madonna has been regarded as a faddish pop personality, better known for her frivolous bimbo image than her voice or her records. Granted, she has sold more than 25 million records, chalked up five No. 1 pop songs and become a household name. But few people other than her fans -- mostly preteen and teen girls who emulated her multilayered lingerie outfits -- took Madonna Louise Ciccone, 28, of Bay City, Mich. (by way of New York City and Malibu) seriously.

That's too bad, because Madonna is the most well-rounded female multimedia pop talent to emerge in the 1980s. She hopes to convince America of that this summer with a three-pronged attack: a concert tour (which visited the St. Paul Civic Center Wednesday night); her third movie, "Who's That Girl" (which opens next month), and four songs from the film soundtrack, including the title tune, her current hit.

If the campaign works, America could discover a bohemian Barbra Streisand (without the world-class voice), a streetwise Diana Ross (without the self-consciousness), a svelte Bette Midler (without the ribald humor).

Madonna's 100-minute concert last night was fabulous, easily the best arena show since Prince's "Purple Rain Tour" three years ago. Madonna's routine was Broadway musical drama and Las Vegas glitz and dancing infused with rock 'n' roll attitude and energy.

Madonna tried a similar concept two years ago on her first concert tour, but this time her show was sleeker and more sophisticated. She seemed more assured as a performer and singer. And she looked slimmer, changing from a bustier to a prom dress to a ruffled Latin skirt. (She changed her outfit about 10 times.)

Working with three male dancers, she danced practically nonstop. Her performance seemed part aerobic, part striptease, part modern dance (she studied with an Alvin Ailey company years ago). She seemed every bit a rock 'n' roll Ann-Margret with sass and class, an '80s blend of glamour and raw sexuality. The whole time Madonna glowed like a 1950s movie star as closeups of her face spread across giant screens, thanks to video cameras. The closeups suggested her considerable acting abilities, too.

Every song turned into a production number except for the ballad "Live to Tell," which was powerful in its starkness and stillness until the fallen singer rose from the dead during a reprise; that seemed to be her only false move of the night.

Madonna played all 12 of her hits and introduced three new songs from her forthcoming movie. She also threw in a truncated version of the Four Tops' "Can't Help Myself."

"Can't Stop," a new tune done to a gangster theme, was the most Broadway-styled piece of the night and one of the best. Madonna turned "True Blue" into a cute 1950s flirtation. Then she put on a leather jacket over her prom dress to project the perfect combination of toughness and femininity for her controversial "Papa Don't Preach," in which a pregnant unwed teen insists on keeping her baby.

Madonna demonstrated that she has a sense of humor -- especially about herself -- during a medley of her bubblegum hits, "Dress You Up," "Material Girl" and "Like a Virgin." Dressed in a cartoonish Carmen Miranda oufit, she did a campy sendup of Cyndi Lauper. Then she took a sweet slap at her papparazzi-punching husband, actor Sean Penn, as she basked for dancing photographers during the festive "Where's the Party?"

The concert, originally scheduled for the Metrodome, was moved to the Civic Center because of limited ticket sales, about 12,000. The show attracted more adults than Madonna's 1985 concert at the Civic Center. Of course, the steep ticket price of $22.50 may have dictated an older crowd. Or maybe the masses are finally accepting Madonna as the real thing.

Opening the concert was Level 42, a British blue-eyed soul band that was better received than Madonna's opening act in '85 -- an unknown, foul-mouthed rap group called the Beastie Boys.