CLEARWATER — Wearing an awesomely awful green coat that looked like Kermit the Frog in a wood chipper, Diana Ross took the stage at a sold-out Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday proving that it's still really, really fun being Diana Ross.
As she showed over the course of 24 hits and 80 short but fun minutes, the divacious 66-year-old has retained that girl-group curl to her incandescent pipes. She looked fit and fabu in five different ridiculous costumes, all ranging from taffeta eruptions to sparkly 'splosions. And that voluminous pyramid of hair (I want to believe it's real, okay?) still frames a gorgeous, age-defying face.
In more ways than one, Ross was competing against her own legend this weekend, as the sorta-Supremes story Dreamgirls played across the bay at the Straz Center. Plus such is her loopy lore at this point, you arrived expecting a nasty egotastic onstage meltdown.
But let it be known that nothing beats the Real Deal Diana, especially one so willing to warmly embrace all facets of her incomparable songbook, which allowed her to open with the anthem I'm Coming Out, stomp into such '60s Supremes classics as Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love and Stop! In the Name of Love — and somehow get stronger from there.
(Future musicians take note: Everyone, metal bands included, should have the life-affirming Ease on Down the Road in their set list. Nobody beats The Wiz, baby!)
The girl who helped make Motown (and burn a few bridges in the process) was backed by an 11-piece band, including two singers. But Ross didn't need much help in the vocal department, tackling her first ballad, Touch Me in the Morning, with crystalline confidence.
She was even better during a tribute to Billie Holiday (remember, Ross was in Lady Sings the Blues) and a crowd-goosing mash of Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going to) and Ain't No Mountain High Enough.
Most of the 2,180 fans in the house wouldn't stop dancing until show-closer Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand). Sure, it all had a slightly prefab Vegas feel, and I had a strange hankering for 99-cent shrimp cocktail throughout. But the star of stars smiled and shimmied and charmed, obviously stoked to be singing to a packed house — and just as pleased to be the one and only Diana Ross.