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Music DVD Review: Diana Ross – Live in Central Park

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On July 21, 1983, Diana Ross performed for approximately 400,000 fans in New York’s Central Park. The show was being taped for live broadcast on the Showtime network. As Ross took the stage for an elaborately choreographed opening number, the wind was beginning to blow pretty hard. After a few numbers, the late afternoon skies turned dark and rain began hammering the immense crowd. Completely drenched in the downpour, Ross continued singing–apparently in total denial that, despite careful planning, the concert was a lost cause.

Throughout the truncated concert, Ross tries very hard to maintain her composure. A few terse commands to offstage assistants betray the frustration (if not panic) she felt as the situation worsened. This was no light drizzle, it was a full blown thunderstorm and everyone there was in potential danger. After about 45 minutes, it was announced by the singer herself that everyone needed to go home. “We’ll do it again tomorrow,” she promised, without knowing whether or not that was indeed possible. As the assembled throng slowly made its way toward the exits, Ross remained on stage, imploring everyone to exercise as much caution as possible. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

By some minor miracle, Ross and company returned the very next day. The weather was beautiful and a full concert was performed without a hitch. Nearly 30 years later, both shows are presented in their entirety for the first time ever on Live in Central Park. The rain-shortened first concert is a fascinating example of grace under pressure. Ross, who contributed new liner notes for the release, was very brave to allow its inclusion. It’s a rare look at a superstar enduring very undesirable and unflattering circumstances, singing off key at times as the elements drown out any possibility of hearing the monitors.

The triumphant full concert is all the more enjoyable after watching the disastrous rain-out. Ross’ energy is boundless, reckless even, as she nearly biffs it while running up some stairs backstage while singing the opener, “I’m Coming Out.” The crowd seems to be having as grand a time as she is, basking in the hot July sun and singing along boisterously. The staging is endearingly primitive by today’s standards, with Ross making some of her costume changes right onstage as the band plays. She almost trips while trying to take off what looks like oversized pajamas. This is clearly a live performance, with no post-production sweetening to clean up occasionally sour vocals.

Among the many predictable hits in the set list, such as a Supremes medley, “Endless Love,” “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” are a couple of less expected covers. Michael Sembello’s then-contemporary “Maniac” (from the movie Flashdance) gets a workout, complete with a choreographed dance routine. Ross received a big cheer as she launched into a short version of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” but even though she assures the crowd, “You know how much I love Michael,” she didn’t know this song very well. Even more surprising is when she blanks on the lyrics to her own smash, “Upside Down.” She tries to play it off by flirting with the hoard of police officers providing security.

Whatever flaws there may be only makes the performance that much more genuinely endearing. By the end of the show, the legendary performer is moved to tears, clearly overcome with emotion in front of 400,000 fans. Kudos to the DVD producers (and Ms. Ross herself) for including both shows. The rain-shortened concert includes an informative audio commentary by the director, Steve Binder. All these years later, Binder has a great memory and is able to share many details about the concerts. Live in Central Park is essential viewing for Diana Ross fans.

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About The Other Chad

Hi, I'm Chaz Lipp. An old co-worker of mine thought my name was Chad. Since we had two Chads working there at the time, I was "The Other Chad."
  • Luis Boki

    This was truly a different era. Diana demonstrates the skills of a true entertainer. She is not competing with pyrotechnics. She just using the strength of her performing skills to entertain to the best of her ability. One of the first mega-stars, Diana conquered every medium from the stage, the studio, the movies, the small screen, etc. She wrote the template for the modern day superstar and her Central Park concerts are documented proof of a living legend in her full glory.

  • Kent Burrell

    I remember watching the African Dancers as the show first opened, the beats were hypnotic. I always thought that Ms.Ross, woke the rain Gods up with those funcky beats. I mean it was hot, and the rain and storm Gods let it be known” we heard you to girl” Awesome!!!!

  • Thanks for the comments, guys – I agree, many great moments throughout these performances.

  • Nairda

    The very first time I was able to see this performance is back when I was in High School. I guess talking about Diana so much at school led me to a student’s mother who had taped both shows back when they first aired on Showtime. I remember she told me that I could borrow the tapes, but that her mom said that if I had done any damage to the tapes that I would be in big trouble! I guarded the tapes with my young naive life. I tried my hardest to let this friends mom sell the tapes to me. She didn’t want money. Now I can finally watch this in great quality whenever I want on my TV. Day 1 makes me smile for 45 minutes straight. I love seeing Diana’s rain drenched body make it through the rain before Mariah wrote about it. She had the ultimate rain segment in a concert. The type that Britney Spears has tried duplicating in her stage productions. Mother Nature produced the ultimate backdrop for the most dramatic diva of our era. The crowd still adores her as she demands them to “Listen to ME”!!! This was the moment that so many young black girls around the U.S. said “I wanna be like her, Mommy”. So many of those ladies today are realizing their intention and pushing the boundaries Diana laid out. Imitations can only be attempted compared to the real star quality that “Miss Diana Ross” was born with. And does it ever show on this DVD!

  • JR Blues

    I remember seeing this show on TV and I taped it too on things we use to call VHS..lol

    It is so great she released these shows untouched and showing off her pipes… with no auto tuning, lip synching..live from the floor.. this proves even more that the ‘ladies of song’ today really need to take a lesson in ‘Diana 101’ to see how to hang on to some of the notes… and how to use a stage… with less over powering rhythm tracks and boom beats to show off their god given singing prowess… way to go DIANA !!!

  • Lonn67

    Wow!!! I’m just a bit taken back at how you went out of your way to point out any flaws, and even made a few up. This concert by Ms. Ross is truly legendary and absolutely amazing. It does not matter is she slipped, missed stepped, or stopped singing to flirt with her audience. It’s great to finally have this timeless Diana Ross performance on DVD. Please go back to listening and watching Katy Perry, someone you’re qualified to review.

  • @Lonn67 – You know what I’m taken aback by?

    That I can write a positive review of a great concert release and there will still be people like you who read it as NEGATIVE.

    “Even made a few up”?? Do tell, Lonn67, where you believe I imagined a flaw that wasn’t there.

    Here’s an idea, get a bunch of other Diana Ross fanboys and fangirls together and start up a blog where no one dares point out an imperfection in anything she’s ever done. Then you’ll never be offended by objectivity.

    For the record: I loved this DVD release, and the realness of it – flaws and all – makes it all the better.

  • Lonn67

    @The Other Chad…Yes I know Diana Ross is not perfect and would never proclaim her to be. That is what I love about her, how she accentuate what others may consider an average trait. So for you to write she did not know the words to “Beat It” after assuring us she loves Michael. Or going blank while singing her own smash “Upside Down”. Come on now!!! That was a bit much to say the least. The next time you write an article on Ms. Ross or any artist for that matter, please do a better job with balancing out the positive with the negative. You have a good day!!!

  • Lonn, here’s the thing though…

    She didn’t know all the words to “Beat It” and she did blank out while singing “Upside Down.”

    It’s not necessariy a negative or positive, it’s just part of the peformance.

    I pointed those things out not as a diss, but as examples of how unvarnished and “real” this concert is. It’s not everyday that a superstar allows fumbles like that to show up in an official release – and for that I commend her.

    Thanks for the comments.

  • curtis h

    Diana Ross I will remember u for a life time I was there at the rained out concert and didn’t make it to the other but watched. It on TV u are simply amazing. I love u