June 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

Review: Diana Ross still 'The Boss'

Unfortunately, Diana Ross' handlers did not allow press photographs (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News, file)

It took miles and miles of tulle and enough sequins to outfit a road company of “La Cage aux Folles,” but Diana Ross opened the season at Sterling Heights’ Freedom Hill Amphitheatre Friday with a warm performance that defied the temperature.

A smiling Ross sashayed onstage in a shimmering aqua dress singing a few bars of -- what else, her solo hit “I’m Coming Out.” Despite the chill, she gamely tossed away her aqua tulle wrap almost immediately, baring her upper arms even though she was singing to an audience bundled up in fleece, fur and yes -- blankets.

Interestingly, there were many groups of women in the audience, of all ages -- girlfriends doing Supremes shimmys together, mothers swaying to the beat with daughters, or granddaughters. Everybody, even the 250-pound dad beside us oohed and aahed over each costume change (three, by our count). And no wonder, Ross is the ultimate young woman’s victory tale, the skinny, hard-working girl who sewed her own clothes, earned As and talked her way into a record contract while still in her teens.

With Ross in front of the Supremes, it was an unstoppable, nuclear explosion of girl power. After she sang one of her favorite ‘60s pop songs -- the Spiral Starecase’s “More Today Than Yesterda y” --she tore through a string of those golden Holland-Dozier-Holland gems: “My World Is Empty (Without You),” “Come See About Me,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Can’t Hurry Love” and “Love child.”

With her arms aloft in the classic goddess pose, she was still the Boss, the kittenish vibrato of 1964 mellowed into a sensual, bluesy soprano that’s every bit as flirty.

The languid sensuality of her voice fits material such as “The Look of Love,” her own steamy “Love Hangover,” and “Don’t Explain,” from her Billie Holiday biopic, “Lady Sings the Blues.”

Ross’ band is tight, and every costume change timed to the second, with the band skillfully distracting the audience with music and even dancing.

As she came out the last time, in red tulle and sequins, Ross said “OK, hands in the air! Feel the energy!” as the band kicked into “Reach Out and Touch.”

After the first encore and a reprise of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” when the lights went up, she spoke again. “It’s so nice to be near home,” Ross said, smiling. “When they turn the lights up, I can see your faces, and I’m so happy to see you! All my family is here in the front.”

Unlike Tony Bennett or Rod Stewart or Michael Buble, Ross has to not only sing -- and the warmth of her tone once again made a mockery of those who ever discounted her voice -- but she also has to come out in fabulous outfits at least three or four times, or risk disappointing her audience. Bennett and the guys have only to bathe and show up in a nice suit.

Unfortunately, Ross’ handlers did not allow press photographs, so our description, and about 8,000 mediocre cell phone photos being posted on social media as we type, will have to do. We can tell you, she looks stunning. The longest zoom lens in the world would have been her friend.

A woman next to us asked, at one point, “How old is she?” Seventy, as of March 26. The woman shook her head. “Amazing.”

swhitall@detroitnews.com
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