Diana Ross didn’t allow press photographers at her sold-out show Saturday night at the Saenger Theatre, but in fact, the singing star, who’ll be 71 on March 26, looked marvelous. And even though the show lasted just 80 minutes, it was a high-energy affair crammed with crowd-pleasing performances.
Ross, dressed in her first of four usually sparkling costumes, made her entrance after teasing one of her iconic hits from backstage. “I’m ... coming,” she sang from the wings. “I’m coming.”
Of course, the song was “I’m Coming Out,” her 1980 hit about self-determination, freedom and joy, written by the master songwriting team of Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards, the authors of their group Chic’s many dance-floor hits.
Ross, her nine-piece band — including a four-man horn section — and her three backup singers performed some 20 songs in all.
Following “I’m Coming Out” and the Spiral Starecase’s 1969 hit, “More Today Than Yesterday,” the singer tossed her outer layer of ruffles aside, revealing a slinky, floor-length, lime-green dress, and launched a solid six-song run of hits by the group with whom she rose to stardom, Motown Records’ top-selling act, the Supremes.
“It’s memories time,” she said after singing “Come See About Me,” the opening song in the Supremes set. “If you know the words to these songs, I want you to join in!”
“My World Is Empty Without You,” “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” an especially animated take on “You Can’t Hurry Love” and then “Love Child” followed in quick succession.
During “Stop! In the Name of Love,” Ross pushed one hand forward whenever she sang “Stop!” It’s one of the great choruses in pop music history. Like most of the Supremes’ hits, it was the work of Motown tunesmiths Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland and Brian Holland.
The singer’s band and backup singers did a fine, spirited job of re-creating the arrangements heard on the Supremes’ original Motown hits. Ross’ voice, inevitably, is lower and huskier than when she was in her 20s, but she remains recognizably herself. And she smiled through just about every song.
Having performed all of the Supremes songs she’d sing Saturday, Ross moved on to her 1970s and later solo career, starting with the disco-flavored title song of her 1979 album “The Boss.”
Another of her hits from the ’70s, “Touch Me in the Morning,” served as the first of the night’s few ballads. She also performed “Endless Love,” her 1981 duet with Lionel Richie, with one of her male backup singers, as well as “Do You Know Where You’re Going To,” the lovely theme from her 1975 film “Mahogany.”
Ross’ disco era played a prominent role in the rest of the show, including another Rodgers-Edwards song, “Upside Down,” “Love Hangover,” “Ease on Down the Road” (from “The Wiz”) and two performances of Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 disco anthem, “I Will Survive.”
Performed late in the show, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” an early, pre-disco Ross solo hit originally recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, brought the audience to its feet.
The singer’s brief encore included her debut solo single, 1970’s “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” during which she reached out and touched dozens of hands reaching out to her.
“You’re so wonderful,” she said. “I love coming to New Orleans.”