Diana Ross at the Orpheum Theatre, 8/28/13
Photo by Steve Cohen
Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Oh, Diana Ross. Even at the ripe age of 69, she's still reminding us that there was a time before Beyonce. Indeed, without Diana Ross, we might not know to call these modern stars "divas."
At her show last night at the Orpheum Theatre, Ross was all diva, and she wasn't shy about it. With four very purposeful costume changes, massive glittery chandelier earrings, a positively regal mane of hair, a bright smile, and flanked by a 12-piece backing band, Ross commanded the stage and the willing audience with all the style and charisma that you would expect of Motown's finest.
The set was relatively brusque -- a clipped 75 minutes that showcased Ross's genre-spanning career, from a nostalgic opening set featuring Supremes-era hits up through her solo classics. The entire night was a fast-paced journey, and the crowd at the sold-out Orpheum was on its feet for the majority. Strangely, though, while some things could have lasted longer, nothing felt rushed. At this point, Ross knows exactly what her audience wants -- all the hits, a little bit of everything, plus some razzle dazzle -- and she's more than willing to deliver.
Photo by Steve Cohen
Ross opened the night with the appropriate "I'm Coming Out," wrapped up in a striking red gown that was vaguely reminiscent of a circus-red candy apple. "Stop! In the Name of Love" was particularly joyful, with the chorus booming around the theater. During "Ease On Down the Road," Ross spotted a pint-sized kid with moves halfway up the center row and called him to the stage with her. He was passed over from adult to adult in the VIP section before he made it centerstage, where Ross invited him to show the people how it's done. With enough cuteness to cause a toothache, the mini-Michael Jackson (as Ross called him) spun off into a little childlike choreography before Ross thanked him and reined the show back in again.
For a jazzy interlude, Ross changed out of a svelte navy dress (with some daring cut-outs down the side) to an even tighter little black number with a bright neon green feather coat. In this ensemble, she performed a stunning version of Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain," and while it might not have been the high-energy point of the evening, it was the moment when Ross's vocal power was most comfortable. She might not be able to hit the high notes that earned her a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but her voice has a sultry fullness to it that suits the jazz stylings she pulled off beautifully.
There's something about Ross on stage, the way she holds her arms out, lifts them up after a song, raises her beaming face in triumph, like she has just experienced the best moment of her life and is totally fulfilled. As her musicians and backup singers each take their turn for a solo, Ross introduces them jubilantly, dances delightedly, her thousand-watt smile never breaking.
When Ross re-emerged for the final segment of her show, featuring the power tracks "Do You Know Where You're Going To" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (this time in a fantastically glittery pastel orange gown), Ross looked out at the crowd and watched the faces.
Photo by Steve Cohen
"I love when they put the lights like this," said Ross, meaning the house lights that had been lifted, "Because I can see your faces and your eyes and your smiles, and it's like we're sharing what goes in and out. I can feel your energy from here."
Ross closed out the night with a cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," and did a brief reprise as an encore. The song was managed much like a queen bestowing goodwill upon her loyal subjects, and the audience was left without a doubt that Ross, the ultimate diva, is also, after over 50 years in the business, the ultimate survivor.
Critic's bias: Who isn't familiar with -- and an automatic fan of -- Diana Ross?
The crowd: A glorious age-spanning mix of die-hard Diana Ross enthusiasts, who knew all the lyrics to all the songs without fail.
Overheard in the crowd: "I would totally wear that dress."
Set list: Some of these warped into medleys, so feel free to leave corrections in the comments.
I'm Coming Out
More Today Than Yesterday (Spiral Staircase)
My World Is Empty Without You
Stop! In the Name of Love
You Can't Hurry Love
Touch Me In The Morning
Take Me Higher
Ease On Down the Road
The Look of Love (Dusty Springfield)
Don't Explain (Billie Holiday)
Why Do Fools Fall in Love (Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers)
Do You Know Where You're Going To (Theme from Mahogany)
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)
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