Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

A la recherche du temps perdu

July 27, 2008

Dress number five

The summer of proletarian treats continued at the Hollywood Bowl with perhaps one of the more lowbrow entertainments of the season in the appearance of Diana Ross with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I use the term “with” loosely in that the L.A. Phil played for the first set about 30 minutes worth of orchestral music including "Slaughter on 10th Street" from the Richard Rogers musical On Your Toes and Duke Ellington’s Harlem and then called it an evening. Around 9:30 PM, Ms. Ross appeared in a long, red sequined gown further encased in a gargantuan wrap of similarly-hued taffeta (the first of five different frocks on display in the next 90 minutes). With her head wrapped in a similarly gargantuan black wig, Ms. Ross worked an image she has cultivated and locked onto with razor-like intensity for nearly 20 years not unlike Barbara Streisand or Dolly Parton. It works for her though it does seem a bit stale at the same time. She looks damn good for 60 plus though.

After the obligatory snippet of “I’m Coming Out” announcing her arrival, she launched into a medley of hits from her years with Motown and the Supremes clearly announcing that this would be a walk down memory lane featuring all the hits from different stages in Ms. Ross’ career. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this type of a program, the show did have a surprisingly non-populist air to it. Ms. Ross has never been one to ask the audience to see her as one of them whether or not she actually is. This diva from above strategy is again similar to Streisand’s approach, though Ms. Ross frankly lacks the other legends chops. It’s about enjoying how much you love her, not actually enjoying the performance itself so much.

But that can be entertaining and it was fun even when she resorted to time-worn stunts like turning the house lights up to observe the huge audience for herself in some of the big closing numbers. Her back up band sounded sloppy taking everything as mid-tempo as possible with little edge or bounce. The patchy crackle-and-pop amplification helped little. But this was nostalgia pure and simple. I admit I had come to recapture memories of my own youthful preoccupation with Ms. Ross and the Supremes. I'd even read that dishy J Randy Taraborrelli biography, Call Her Miss Ross back at the time. So I too was looking for something I remembered from long ago. And sometimes with nostalgia, it's fine if the record plays at all even if it isn't as good as the first time.


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