Diana Ross arrived on the stage at Wolf Trap as the personification of 25 years of popular music packed into a regal package. The nearly sold-out show, attended by people of all races and generations available, roared heartily throughout the ensuing show-stopping performance.
Diana had fire in her eye and a sparkle in her step as her pitch-perfect voice gave voice to heartbreak, longing, and ultimately defiant self-reliance.
Ms. Ross opened the show with “I’m Coming Out,” a song from the album where I personally find her at her best — her disco-era 10th solo record Diana. The song, devised as a drag queen anthem, enveloped the night with a powerful punch as the people around me sang along with enthusiasm.
Starting with “My World Is Empty Without You,” Diana performed six songs in a row by The Supremes to the delight of the audience. The crowd reserved its biggest response to “Stop! In the Name of Love,” which came quickly to lift everyone to their feet. Diana’s six-member band and her three backing singers realized the full power of the song, gracefully miming along to the “Stop!” hand signal as if they were a very talented group of traffic cops. Her current tour, titled “The Name of Love Tour,” takes its name from the enduring anthem.
The last of The Supremes-era songs from the show — “Love Child” — in hindsight seemed to tackle rather progressive material for its time and surely laid some disco groundwork for an entire genre for which Diana also would become known.
At midpoint, Diana sang “Upside Down,” her #1 smash hit that serves as a testament to the songwriting and producing capabilities of Nile Rodgers of CHIC. Diana followed that up with a duet of “Endless Love,” originally recorded with Lionel Richie. I confess a lapse in due diligence as her sole male backing singer joined her for the duet in what should be a career-ascending move because he sounded incredible — and I don’t have his name handy!
Soon, couples throughout the pavilion were cuddling to a powerfully moving performance of Theme from Mahogany (“Do You Know Where You’re Going to”). I had forgotten the transcendental beauty of the song personally, not having listened to it in a while, but by song’s end, all eyes around me were glistening with heartfelt emotion in reaction to Diana’s yearning ballad.
And to my surprise, Diana covered “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor toward the end of the show. (Covers themselves were not a surprise per se — other earlier covers included “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” by Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. But surely, Diana owns the New York City disco scene still, and it seemed a bit odd to adapt Gloria’s signature song.)
All the same, Diana sounded wonderful, and the crowded amphitheater ate up every word. Another highlight throughout the show were the three dazzling gowns she wore over two costume changes! At 73, she’s still the perfectionist.
Diana’s extensive tour continues tonight, July 27, in Boston, and she winds down on July 30 in nearby Connecticut. She appears to have a one-off performance at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts, on Aug. 30, but then she returns to Las Vegas for a residency at the Encore Theatre at Wynn Las Vegas — a GREAT opportunity to pick a date and see her throughout October.
To me, Diana will always be the Queen of Disco, and Her Majesty is in fit and fine fighting form this year. Do yourself a favor and get out there to see her. At the very least, doing so is a grand excuse for pampering yourself in Vegas.