Nearly twenty some years ago, Billboard named Diana Ross the “Female Entertainer of the Century” – and since then the accolades have continued to roll-in, including her receipt of the Kennedy Center Honors (2007), the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2012), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2016), and recognition by Billboard as the 50th most successful dance-artist of all-time (2016).
Ross is even in the Guinness Book of World Records (and has been since the early ‘90s) as the most successful female music artist in history, as a result of charting more hits – 70 of them – both as a member of the Supremes, as well as her work as a solo artist; all of which adds up to worldwide sales of more than 100 million records!
Now, she’s returned to the Las Vegas Strip, with her month-long residency show, The Essential Diana Ross: Some Memories Never Fade, at the Venetian Theatre; and it’s wonderful. With her audience eating out of the palm of her hand, Ross – ably assisted by her talented team of musicians and back-up singers – is only ever off-stage during the uplifting 90-minute show, for the time it takes her to change from one Bob Mackie-designed ensemble, to the next.
There are two things that I feel cement Ross’ place among the highest echelons of live entertainers. First, since she’s been at this since 1959, Ross knows how to perform for an audience. She interacts with them, brings members of her audience on-stage (including a hilarious 8 year old boy, the night I went, who was a terrific dancer but simply refused to sing with the icon – causing heartfelt laughter from Ross and the audience, alike), and treats her audience members as guests, with direct eye-contact, as well as the occasional point-and-wave, on top of that immediately recognizable 1,000-megawatt smile.
Second, and no less important, is that no matter what part of the Western World in which you might have been raised, the various entries in the Diana Ross Songbook – whether her solo work or her songs with the Supremes – are so ingrained into our psyches as to border on musical hyperbole. Fortunately, thanks to great writing, production, and musicality, they’ve avoided lapsing into aural cliché.
The result? A show where people (who are able), are up and out of their seats, dancing and singing-along to songs, whether from the Motown era, Hollywood, the disco years, or beyond.
The only downside – if it can even be seen as such – is that due to her sheer number of hits, it would be impossible for her to sing every song that someone might want to hear (in my case, “No One Gets the Prize”); and she’s only able to perform as many as she does, thanks to her very shrewd use of editing and medleys. So, for instance, while you know you’re gonna hear “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Love Child” and such other Supremes hits as “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “My World is Empty Without You;” she just doesn’t have the time to get to “Reflections” or “I Hear a Symphony,” because if she did, this’d be the Nicholas Nickleby of concert performances!
My favorite selections from Ross’ show include her cover of Spiral Staircase’s 1969 hit, “More Today Than Yesterday,” “Love Child” (the Supremes), “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” Ashford & Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (originally a 1967 hit for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, it became Ross’ first #1 single as a solo artist in 1970), and of course, her nightclub classics – Ashford & Simpson’s “The Boss,” the Hal Davis-produced “Love Hangover,” and the Chic-penned and produced “I’m Coming Out” – the song that has become Ross’ signature opening number (following a dynamic sizzle-reel of Ross looking glamorous through the decades, that’s projected onto a scrim, that falls to the floor in conjunction with Ross intoning those three words that have become so familiar to anyone who’s ever attended a PRIDE parade, “I’m – Coming – Out!”)
Ross, like her Strip-headlining contemporaries Cher and Elton John, is the entertainment equivalent of a champion thoroughbred; bejeweled and bedazzled, and happiest when giving her fans their money’s worth. So much so that – owing to a phenomenon that I’ve dubbed “Go-Back-Ability” – a significant number of attendees, at any of her performances, have seen the show multiple times. And that’s all the delicious proof that this pudding needs!
The Essential Diana Ross: Some Memories Never Fade
The Venetian Theatre | The Venetian
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Get into it!