Purple reign: Pop music royal Diana Ross performs in Atlantic City.
Purple reign: Pop music royal Diana Ross performs in Atlantic City.Chuck Darrow

Review: Diana Ross defies time with tour de force performance at Atlantic City’s Ocean Casino Resort

The music icon, now 78, wowed a sold-out crowd on her "Thank You" tour.

Ponce de Leon never found the Fountain of Youth, but Diana Ross apparently has. How else to explain an Ocean Casino Resort performance that found the 78-year-old pop immortal performing with the voice, energy and physical presence of someone at least 25 years younger?

But that’s exactly what the lucky folks who filled Ocean’s 5,200-seat Ovation Hall Friday night experienced, which resulted in an unforgettable performance that mostly served as a reminder of why she has occupied one of the brightest corners of the show business firmament for almost 60 years.

Ross – whose 42-minutes-later-than-announced start time didn’t appear to matter one iota to the sold-out, multicultural, multi-generational audience – wasted no time in letting those in attendance know they were in for quite a ride: She and her 11-member supporting troupe (seven musicians, four backup singers) hit the stage with all cylinders firing as they opened with her celebratory 1980 anthem, “I’m Coming Out,” followed by Spiral Staircase’s 1969 hit, “More Today Than Yesterday.”

And then they cranked up the heat several notches with a string of signatures that helped Ross and The Supremes become a global superstar act in the 1960s: “Baby Love;” “Stop! In the Name of Love;” “You Can’t Hurry Love;” “Love Child”—all of which were flawless recreations of the original tracks.

From there the affection for “Miss Ross” was in full bloom – and was reciprocated by the garrulous and expansive star, who seemed to revel in interacting with the adoring throng as she served up meticulous, but in no way perfunctory, versions of familiar, and not-so-familiar tunes. On each of the numbers, Ross, whose sartorial style didn’t disappoint thanks to a series of eye-popping, chiffon-caped ensembles, vocalized in a way that belied her decades of performing. She was never less than commanding, expressive and, literally, pitch-perfect.

We’ll assume there were no technological enhancements involved. And if there were, so what? She clearly delivered what the audience hoped for/expected. And that pretty much is all that matters.

That said, a particular highlight was the Billie Holiday cover, “Don’t Explain,” which appeared on the soundtrack to her 1972 breakthrough film, the Holiday biopic, “Lady Sings the Blues.” Of course, Ross nailed it with her sultry, languid presentation, but it also provided the individual band members the opportunity to show off their talents as jazz players.

This is not to suggest the program was flawless. For instance, the obligatory turn on “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” was an eye-rolling “Kumbaya” moment. And Ross was joined by her daughter, Rhonda Ross Kendrick, on “Count on Me,” which appeared on the 2021 album, “Thank You” (for which the current tour is named). The combination of the song’s rather cliché message and platitudinous lyrics, and Hendrick’s reedy vocals created a rare stumble in what was a stunning and memorable performance.

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