There was excitement in the air last week at the Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, as a band and backup singers warmed up and concertgoers found their seats in anticipation of “The Boss.”
Then the main attraction — music legend Diana Ross — announced her entrance in fitting fashion, singing “I’m coming,” the opening lyrics of her 1980 hit “I’m Coming Out.” In unison, the audience jumped out of their seats, as the legendary diva took the stage in a spectacular cloud of a seafoam green gown and hair that only a superstar can manage. Adoring fans were in heaven.
After opening with “I’m Coming Out,” the Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers-penned hit that became an LGBT anthem, the concert was divided into five specific segments that chronicled Ross’ career. Included throughout the evening were the prerequisite wardrobe changes. For Ross, there were five.
Of course, the opening segment were songs from her days with the Supremes, Motown’s first hit-making “girl group.” She started with “My World is Empty Without You,” then came “Stop! In the Name of Love.” Audience members were seen mimicking the hand gestures from the song. Several more hits from the Supremes followed.
Thankfully, Ross didn’t turn to the old show biz trick that others with mammoth discographies often use — 30-40 seconds of a song, then turning the mic towards the audience while shouting, “You know the words, sing it for me.” No, she gave her audience a full two to three minutes of those radio hits. (For young folks, that’s how long singles were back in the 1960s.)
A nice touch for the walk down Motown memory lane were the black-and-white photos and video performances of the Supremes and other Motown acts projected on a screen above the stage.
During a brief wardrobe change, the audience was treated to video footage from Ross’ “Live in Central Park” concert, a gigantic 1983 event with 450,000 attendees that was known for two things — Ross performing in a snug red sequined body suit and a severe thunderstorm that halted the concert. So what does Ross do at Strathmore? She comes back on stage not a body suit, but in a red sequined outfit to again give the audience memories to hold.
Each concert scene bore witness to why Ross has been considered a total entertainer. She’s had mega-hits as a part of a group and as a solo artist. She has been an award-winning actress. She has created her gowns, falling back on her high school clothing design skills. Her voice is in great shape. And she looked glamorous, which is what you want to see from an iconic diva.
An incredible bonus came during her second encore. Ross asked for a chair so she could sit and talk to her audience, something she said she began doing when the tour kicked off in Las Vegas. A mother first, she started talking about her five children, including actress Tracee Ellis Ross and actor and singer Evan Ross, and her five grandchildren. In the audience at Strathmore were several of Ross’ relatives including her sister, physician Barbara Ross-Lee.
She took questions from those in the first few rows, as fans brought flower bouquets to the foot of the stage. Ross came across as a regular gal, whose job was simply different from what the rest of us do. As she said during her brief audience chat, “I give a very casual, glamorous show.”
In response, several audience members shouted, “We love you!”
That would be an understatement based on how fans responded to Ross, the original “Boss.”