Deep into Diana Ross’ set at the Hollywood Bowl, when she started singing songs associated with Billie Holiday, the evening took a sharp turn from playful nostalgia to missed opportunity. The Los Angeles Philharmonic had done its thing, playing some Richard Rodgers and Duke Ellington, and Ross had done hers by singing her hits from the Supremes and her solo days, and it only half mattered that the two programs did not gel. Having Ross backed by the orchestra could have tied this program together smartly.
When the synthesizer kicked in on “My Man,” there was an instant in which one longed for the real deal — a bona fide string section — and by the time she was closing with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” well, a swelling orchestra could have made the performance monumental. Instead, it was a slightly shortened standard-issue show: 20 hits in 75 minutes, four costume changes and lots of big, big smiles.
Over the years, Bowl programs have thrived on VSOP collaborations, particular concerts that feast on the Great American Songbook. Ross, whose chipper voice has retained its personality over more than four decades, consistently pays tribute to “Lady Sings the Blues” in her concerts, and Friday contained the subtle delight “Don’t Explain.” It was a far better selection, and received a much more nuanced perf, than three inconsequential covers, “More Today Than Yesterday,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “I Will Survive.”
Ross’ best singing occurs when a melody forces her to vocally maneuver with control, as on “Love Hangover,” “Theme From Mahogany” and the Holiday tunes; comparatively speaking, “Baby Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go” sound like nursery rhymes.