Living the dream supreme

April 12, 2007


At age 63, the original Dream Girl is still living the fantasy of the pop superstar.

Diana Ross' place in the history books is, of course, secure. Her career spans more than four decades, stretching from her time in the 1960s as the leader of the Supremes to her long and fruitful solo career, and including 18 No. 1 singles and an Oscar nomination for her turn as Billie Holiday in the 1972 film "Lady Sings the Blues."

Things weren't looking good, however, as the self-proclaimed "aging diva" entered the new millennium. In 2000, her attempt to reunite the Supremes failed; in 2002, she served two days in an Arizona jail after being convicted of drunk driving, and in 2004, her last tour was largely relegated to the ranks of nostalgic Motown oldies acts.

But in true diva form, Ross has bounced back and is once again demanding the spotlight at center stage.

Last month, the Detroit-born singer presided over an episode of the wildly popular TV show "American Idol." She was allegedly there to mentor the aspiring pop stars, but mostly she tore down their attempts to update her classic hits with an air of superiority usually reserved for Simon Cowell -- though she's certainly more entitled.

In January, Ross' latest release, "I Love You," debuted at No. 32 on the Billboard albums chart, marking her highest-charting disc in more than 22 years. A collection of covers -- including unexpected choices such as Paul McCartney's "I Will" and Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" -- produced by her longtime ally Peter Asher (once of the '60s duo Peter and Gordon), the album has since dropped out of the Top 200, but the tour supporting it is selling out venues across the country. (Ross performs here on Saturday.)

"For me, every song is a positive affirmation of love," Ross has said of the new disc. "And this is the message I want to bring with the concerts, too."

Finally, there is the resurgence of interest in Ross spurred by the hit film "Dreamgirls." The musical was written by Ohio native Tom Eyen, who died in 1991, and he insisted that it wasn't directly inspired by Ross. "I didn't grow up with the Supremes, I grew up with the Shirelles," he once told the Columbus Dispatch. " 'Dreamgirls' isn't about any one group. It's a cavalcade of black Motown singers ... all larger than life."

To be sure, the play and the film include some scenes that reference Jackie Wilson and the Shirelles. But it's impossible to look at the heart of the tale -- the relationship between the manager-producer played by Jamie Foxx and the girl-group leader portrayed by Beyonce, who is unjustly elevated above her partners -- and not think of the parallels to Motown founder Berry Gordy, Ross and her own estranged bandmates.

Asked about the film by David Letterman in January, Ross responded that she'd been too busy with her own career to see it -- the perfect diva response.

Now, Ross is taking her act on the road with a stripped-down seven-piece band. Her 75-minute set reportedly produces no fewer than five costume changes, with each new outfit more spectacular than the last. And it includes 19 songs spanning her career, from the Supremes ("Where Did Our Love Go," "Stop! In the Name of Love") to the disco era ("Upside Down," "Love Hangover"), and from "Lady Sings the Blues" ("Don't Explain") to the new album's "I Love You (That's All That Really Matters)."

"Not since Marlene Dietrich has a pop diva staked so much on maintaining a fixed image of time-resistant, hard-shell glamor," critic Stephen Holden wrote when reviewing the show for the New York Times. "That image is carried off much more effectively on the stage than on television."

Or, as Ross herself put it when she played New York's Madison Square Garden, "Not bad for an old broad, huh?"



When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State
Tickets: Sold out