Logically—not to mention biologically—this seems impossible: How can someone turn 71 with a voice that’s still 17?
Medical science has yet to crack the mystery of Diana Ross, who celebrated Birthday No. 71 on March 26, but still belts—as she proves in her fleeting residency through April 18 at the Venetian Theatre—with pipes unmolested by the decades.
Add in her performance ardor on par with a teenager’s, too, and you’ve got the immensely satisfying, if fussily titled, The Essential Diana Ross: Some Memories Never Fade.
Similar to Olivia Newton-John’s Flamingo show, this is a model of exquisite simplicity: a beloved performer running the table on her hits—solo and Supremes—tossing in a few from outside the oeuvre, and coating it with glowing warmth.
Following the standard-issue video montage, Ross makes her signature entrance, gliding down the aisle from the back of the house singing “I’m Coming Out” (with two beefy escorts). Climbing onstage, she’s clearly as happy to see us as we are to see her. You’d need a yardstick to measure her grin.
Over 80 minutes and numerous costume changes—bold gowns of green, gold, mauve, red and black, with matching fans to cool her off—Ross bounds around her catalog at supersonic speed, but it never feels rushed. Instead, it’s a musical rush in the best sense, backed by a torrid nine-piece band (whose members Ross introduces and credits often during solos and song bridges), plus one female and two male backup singers.
Occasionally, the band threatens to swallow her up, but she manages to stay a decibel or two ahead.
After a spirited “More Today Than Yesterday,” Ross doesn’t tease us, delivering the marquee memories up front—a cascade of Supremes hits: “Love Child,” “Come See About Me,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Baby Love” and more.
Disco-era hits take her through “Upside Down,” “Love Hangover,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “Touch Me in the Morning,” and she pinballs back to the ’60s with “The Look of Love” (originally a hit for Dusty Springfield) and forward to the ’90s with “Take Me Higher.” Time-tripping through her movie-related repertoire brings her to “Do You Know Where You’re Going To” from Mahogany and “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz.
And in a luscious downshift, she revisits her cinematic zenith, Lady Sings the Blues, with the achingly lovely “Don’t Explain” and “Good Morning Heartache.”
Roaring into the climax, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” brings the house to a frenzy, then ramps up into the anthemic “I Will Survive,” before the encore mellows out to “Reach Out and Touch” as Ross does precisely that with the front row.
Through it all, Ross rarely stops to banter, but her infectious enthusiasm—exhorting the audience to sing, clap and dance at their seats (not that they need prodding)—is more than enough emotional connection. By now, words other than lyrics aren’t necessary.
Damn if this dame doesn’t keep us hangin’ on.
Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.