PHILADELPHIA (AP) â€” It was billed as ``Diana Ross and the Supremes,'' but some may have thought that ``Ross and the Replacements'' was a more appropriate title for the trio that kicked off their tour Wednesday night.
After two months of bad publicity for staging a Supremes reunion tour without Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong, her former groupmates, Ross set out to prove that the group she managed to assemble was not the dupe'premes, as one critic dubbed them.
Ross succeeded â€” and failed.
She succeeded in drenching the audience in a soulful, nostalgic soul show. But she failed in proving that the group was the Supremes. Don't be misled. It's a Diana Ross show with two solid backup singers in tow. The other Supremes â€” Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence, who joined the group after Ross and Wilson left â€” were not even on stage for about half of the show, though Laurence had a brief solo.
But the audience didn't seem to care, responding enthusiastically the Supremes' classics that helped define the Motown era, such as ``Where Did Our Love Go,'' ``Baby Love,'' ``Come See About Me.''
The show catered to people about to face a midlife crisis and those who wish they were alive during the '60s and '70s. Footage of Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights protests in the South rolled out from huge overhead screens at the start of the show. Ross, 56, looked particularly silly when she emerged for a number in a hot pink bell-bottom pants suit.
But amazingly enough, Ross of the new millennium is not so different from that of several decades ago. Her voice has thickened like molasses, but she still belts it out with a crisp, defined edge.
Ross sounded confident and assured, unscathed from the fiasco surrounding the concert tour.
It erupted after Wilson, an original Supreme, publicly complained about being offered $2 million for the tour in comparison with Ross, who reportedly is getting at least $15 million. Birdsong, who replaced the late Florence Ballard in the Supremes, also did not sign on for the tour.
Ross alluded to the controversy indirectly.
``I am truly honored to be onstage with two new girlfriends,'' she said, in between songs. ``Change has been inherent in the Supremes. These girls, for me, kept the legacy alive.''
She thanked the audience about a dozen times, which filled out a little more than three quarters of the First Union Spectrum.
She spoke in platitudes, even more than the average beauty queen.
Ross, who was sometimes stiff in her movements, tried to rile up the crowd by pumping her arms occasionally and weakly took a stab at the dance movement the ``swim.'' Thank goodness for the energetic 20-something dancers who made their way onto the stage every few numbers.
When the other Supremes remained backstage, Ross seemed to gain momentum. At those times, she seemed suddenly released from the supreme controversy.
During a passionate rendition of Ross' ``Ain't No Mountain High Enough'' she was able to get nearly the entire audience on their feet and cheering. An impressive orchestra, the dancers, Laurence and Payne, rounded out the performance.
The show closed on a non-Supreme note, as the trio sang ``I Will Survive,'' the '70s classic by Gloria Gaynor. The show proved not to be a reunion, but a good party.
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