Thursday, July 11, 2019

Come See About Me: At 75, Diana Ross Remains a Supreme Entertainer -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Diana Ross
w/ opening act Rhonda Ross
Chicago Theater
July 10, 2019

Over the years, my perceptions of Diana Ross have not always been positive.

In fact, beyond the indelible string of hits she made with the Supremes, and then on her own, I would say I haven't really liked her.

She seemed to define "diva" in the worst connotations, with a out-sized ego, megastar affectations and what appeared to be an odd friendship with Michael Jackson.

Yet the woman always could sing.

And in my not only having seen many of the surviving male legends of the '60s, but in 2017 the similarly legendary Aretha Franklin, plus all kinds of musical theater and a number of tribute shows by the Black Ensemble Theatre, it was time for me to see Diana Ross.

...who turned 75 on March 26 and has embarked on a tour to celebrate the milestone.

Whichever of my perceptions may have had whatever degrees of truth underneath, none detracted in any way from Monday's show at the Chicago Theatre, which was thoroughly delightful.

As was Diana herself.

Until the encores--when Ross sat onstage and fielded questions from the audience--she didn't speak much  as she ran through a cavalcade of hits.

Oh, but what a cavalcade.

"I'm Coming Out"--appropriately to start--"More Today Than Yesterday," then four Supreme classics ("Stop! In the Name of Love," "Come See About Me," "You Can't Hurry Love," "Love Child") over the next five songs.

Proudly mentioning that she'd lost 20 lbs. from drinking lots of water, Ross looked great and her voice sounded terrific, backed by crack musicians and a quartet of vocalists. (The singer's daughter, Rhonda Ross, opened the show with a nice half-hour of her own, including covers of Aerosmith and Adele.)

On a few occasions, Diana would head offstage to put on another astonishing dress, but this gave the band some showcase time in extending "Love Child" and "Ease on Down the Road." (See the setlist here.)

"Upside Down" was a clear highlight as Ross not only urged the crowd to dance while shaking her own hips, she brought a few patrons onstage to dance with her.

Later she would also venture out into the crowd.

While I would've loved a few more Supreme cuts--"You Keep Me Hangin' On," "Baby Love," "I Hear a Symphony"--her rendition of Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain" was lovely. (Ross notably played Holiday in the Lady Sings the Blues biopic.)

"Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and a cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" nicely wrapped up the main set.

Though she hadn't spoken extensively throughout the show, Ross was far more gracious and pleasant than haughty or pretentious. But she really endeared herself during the brief Q&A after the encore break.

Asked who she would like to duet with but never had, Diana cited Jennifer Hudson, believing the Chicago native to be in the house.

Despite excited applause, Hudson was seemingly not to be found, and the performance appeared to end with "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand" after about 90 minutes.

But with some of the crowd already headed to the exits, Hudson then came onstage. 

At Ross' behest, the pair sang a good portion of "Endless Love," originally a duet Diana did with Lionel Richie.

Hudson sounded great but was clearly in awe of the living legend, and her surprise appearance made a cool evening even more so. 

I make no bones that beyond concerts by longtime favorites, I'm also trying to see several other esteemed performers before the opportunity disappears. (I'll soon be seeing Barbra Streisand in a similar vein.)

But seeing Diana Ross wound up going well beyond reverence, curiosity or just wanting to cross her off my list.

While still not quite ranking with my all-time favorites--though she's nearly as legendary as anybody--she proved, abetted by a warm smile throughout the show, that she truly is Supremely entertaining.
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