By Christopher Arnott
7:22 AM EDT, April 25, 2013
The prospect of Diana Ross coming back to Hartford—August 13 at the Bushnell, tickets going on sale May 3—might strike some as “OK, another nostalgia act.” But for those of us who remember Ross as a singular superstar on the name-her-own-terms plateau of touring, a concert in a reasonably sized theater is still an astonishing concept.
You don’t see Neil Diamond or Barbra Streisand playing the Bushnell, do you? But recent tours have brought Diana Ross to smaller venues than this. I guess we can feel privileged. Ross hasn’t exactly been out of the public eye. When she released the long-suppressed 1972 solo disc Blue in 2006, it hit number 2 on the jazz charts. She was all over the place, including on tour, when her protégé Michael Jackson died in 2010. The TV special derived from her controversial Central Park concerts of 1983 has just been released on DVD. Last year Ross received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and performed at a White House Christmas charity concert.
But there are plenty of negative perceptions of Diana Ross to counter. She’s seen by some as the ultimate diva, who furthered her solo career at the expense of her fellow Supremes. Those Central Park concerts were a publicist’s nightmare. When the originally scheduled concert was shut down mid-show by a deluge, there were complaints about crowd control. Then, when the make-up show happened, there were criticisms about how much Ross and the promoters were making from the show, and how little was going to the project it was announced to support: a children’s playground in the park. Ross ended up paying for the playground herself, but the incriminations lingered.
Nearly 20 years later, Ross was still receiving bad press, for a disastrous Supremes reunion tour in 2000 where it was revealed that she was receiving three times more money than the other two Supremes on the tour put together. The second half of the tour was cancelled.
But one can only look at Ross’ much-extended 2010 tour, the Connecticut stop of which was at the Palace Theater in Stamford, as a return to the crowd-pleasing and hard-working ways of her youth. Ross did five separate jags of between 11 and 17 dates each in a two-year period from May 2010 to April 2012. The shows apparently involve multiple costume changes and span decades of her hits, from Motown through disco through pop ballads, and even seem to include songs not primarily associated with Ross, such as Bacharach & David’s “The Look of Love” (a hit for Dusty Springfield).
Her appeal remains widespread. In some quarters, the best shout-out Diana Ross ever received was when Lou Reed acknowledged that “Love Hangover” was a good song during the incessant patter on his Live Take No Prisoners album. The Supremes were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, years ahead of many of their Motown peers.
Tickets to Diana Ross’ August 13 show at the Bushnell—$49.50 to $109.50, plus a $179.50 “limited gold circle” level—reflect that continued popularity and relevance. The Bushnell box office is at (860) 987-5900 or www.bushnell.org
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