On Broadway (1969)

Diana Ross Supremes Temptations On Broadway cover

“I’ve always wanted to be a Broadway leading lady…”

The 1968 television special TCB starring Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations was a breakthrough program for both groups and for Motown; it proved to the world once and for all just how charismatic and talented these Detroit performers really were, as they effortlessly filled an hour with elegant harmonies, dazzling choreography, and a bold glamour.  Their powerful performances of “The Impossible Dream” and “Somewhere” could arguably be counted among the most eloquent arguments for racial harmony of the entire decade, and the endless parade of hit songs a reminder of what a potent force Motown was (and still is) in popular music.  The special was a smash hit with audiences, and the soundtrack album a #1 hit on the Billboard 200; in its wake, Diana Ross appeared solo in the Dinah Shore TV special Like Hep (airing in April, 1969) and The Temptations headlined their own one-hour special in July, The Temptations Show.

Finally, Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations re-teamed for G.I.T. On Broadway, aired in November of 1969.  This time, there were no Motown hits featured; the setlist was composed entirely of Broadway standards, Broadway-themed songs, and silly skits similar to those seen on the then-popular show Laugh-In (which was produced by George Schlatter and Ed Friendly, who also co-produced this special).  The focus on Diana Ross was also heightened this time around; her imminent departure from The Supremes was officially announced the same month that the program aired on NBC-TV.  The standout of the special and resultant soundtrack album is a “Leading Lady Medley” performed entirely by Diana Ross; designer Bob Mackie later remembered, “With every costume I designed for her in that medley, Berry told me to try to create the impression that she originated the role on Broadway.  I got the impression that he and she both wished she had” (Diana Ross: A Biography, 204).

Not surprisingly, this “Leading Lady Medley” is the only time On Broadway (the G.I.T. — which stood for Gettin’ It Together — was dropped on the album title) really comes alive; even without the benefit of seeing those eye-popping costumes, Diana’s talent and enjoyment of the material rings through loud and clear.  The rest of the album is dreadfully laborious, an exercise in forced enthusiasm and dated humor that doesn’t translate to a sound recording at all.  The success of the TCB soundtrack is that it sounds like an event; there’s an excitement woven into the fabric of the record.  Without the benefit of any hit songs or magical collaborations, On Broadway plods along like a mediocre episode of variety television.  Beyond that, if a major goal of the project was to definitively prove that Diana Ross was capable of transcending music and conquering Broadway and film, she’d already done that with her superb reading on the 1968 LP Diana Ross and The Supremes Sing & Perfect “Funny Girl.”  So what’s left is an album that feels like a cheap way to milk a winning combination.

***

1.  G.I.T. On Broadway:  Whereas the title track to TCB was a jazzy, energetic tune that set the tone for a glitzy evening of entertainment, “G.I.T. On Broadway” it a snoozer of a song that unfortunately portends the dullness to come.  Capturing very little of the excitement of a Broadway opening night, the song sounds more like a commercial jingle for fabric softener, with vague lyrics referencing famed restaurant Sardi’s and “David Merrick parties.”  Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations trade-off lines, with each group singing in unison; without any of their trademark harmonies or even much enthusiasm evident in their voices, the entire opening falls fairly flat.  Perhaps it’s unfair to harshly judge such a brief introductory number, as its intended purpose was really as much a visual as a musical one; still, “T.C.B.” managed to stand on its own as a piece of music, something this track doesn’t accomplish.

2.  Broadway Medley:  The opening number immediately leads into a medley of songs about The Great White Way, including the standards “Broadway Rhythm,” “Give My Regards To Broadway,” “Broadway Melody,” and a snippet of the 1963 Drifters hit “On Broadway.”  The strength of the medley comes at the beginning, as Diana Ross and The Supremes take on the classic “Lullaby Of Broadway,” which is set to a pulsing Motown beat; Diana sings the song as though she’s recording a Holland-Dozier-Holland original, injecting it with a surprising style and modernity, and Mary and Cindy prominently back her up with sweet sophistication.  It’s all downhill from there, however; the manic arrangement doesn’t make a bit of sense, with little bits and pieces from numerous songs strewn throughout without any sense of order.  The singers do their best to keep up, but The Temptations in particular never even get a chance to demonstrate their interpretive skills.  Aside from Diana, Mary, and Cindy getting a few good moments in on “Lullaby Of Broadway,” this is a mess.

3.  Malteds Over Manhattan:  This is the first of the special’s comedic skits, introduced by Diana Ross as “the story of a little girl behind an ice cream fountain, who soda jerks her way to stardom.”  In essence, this is a parody of the classic movie musicals in which unlikely young ingenues suddenly find themselves thrust into Broadway stardom (i.e. 42nd Street), which sounds like a terrific idea until you realize it’s really just a lengthy medley of songs involving ice cream puns.  Here, The Temptations must suffer the embarrassment of singing “We’ll take banana/And sarsaparilla from a vat” to the tune of “Manhattan” while Diana croons, “Hot fudge sundae, it’s got me/Everybody dance!” to the melody of “Broadway Rhythm.”  The only real fun here is hearing all three Supremes do a little acting; even if their lines are ridiculously juvenile, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong sound as comfortable with the comedic dialogue as Miss Ross.  Aside from this, the segment goes on for far too long, and without the benefit of the visuals, there’s just no real point to its being here.

4.  Leading Lady Medley:  This is the heart of On Broadway, a ten-minute sequence featuring Diana Ross taking on some of the most famous female roles in Broadway history.  In his book Diana Ross: A Biography, J. Randy Taraborrelli quotes writer Billy Barnes (who helped put together the medley) as recalling, “She was a genius in the way she pulled it off.  She could do anything, really, and do it well” (204).  Indeed, Diana’s performance here almost makes the rest of the album worthwhile; her vocals are fresh and alive, and it’s exciting to hear her take on theatre classics that she’d otherwise never recorded.  After singing a dreamy introduction proclaiming “I’ve always wanted to be a Broadway leading lady,” Ross begins the segment with a swinging version of “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” from Annie Get Your Gun.  Ross certainly doesn’t sound like an Old West sharpshooter, but she really isn’t required to, as the song is given a rollicking Motown makeover; in this context, she sounds great, effortlessly keeping up with the hurried pace.  Next up comes a far funkier version of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” than any Nellie Forbush ever got the chance to sing before in South Pacific; Diana is so convincing in her slinky delivery that the song sounds like it could have been a hit for her and The Supremes.  A brassy rendition of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” from My Fair Lady follows, giving Ross a chance to show off her considerable (and underrated) range, and it leads directly into a tune Ross was already very familiar with, “People” from Funny Girl.  Diana Ross and The Supremes had already tackled the songs of Funny Girl in a full-length LP the year before, so it’s no surprise she performs the show’s signature song with gusto here; her belting while singing the final “People who need people…” is incredibly powerful, and very much worthy of a Broadway leading lady.  One of the stranger song choices surfaces next, as Diana takes on Mama Rose with a danceable “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” — certainly the 26-year-old Diana Ross couldn’t have been further from Gypsy‘s ultimate stage mother, but the singer acquits herself well.  Finally, Ross brings it on home with another song she’d been performing for a while; the title song from Mame had been part of a medley performed in concert by The Supremes (see: Live At London’s Talk Of The Town), and Diana is absolutely fantastic here, belting out the song with ease.  It’s a perfect way to wrap up the medley (although there is a brief reprise of the introduction), because it really does drive home the message that Diana Ross was more than capable of being a leading lady in “a great, big Broadway show.”  What this segment does more than anything else is demonstrate the astounding versatility of Miss Ross as a vocalist and entertainer; the fact of the matter is that very few (if any) of the singer’s contemporaries could have pulled this medley off as effectively.  This is what makes Diana Ross such a unique presence in popular music; what Mr. Barnes said about her ability to do anything is absolutely true.

5.  Fiddler On The Roof Medley:  The Temptations are given the unenviable task of following up Diana’s tour-de-force performance on the Leading Lady Medley with a collection of songs from the hit Broadway musical Fiddler On The Roof.  You have to hand it to the guys; they are sensationally talented and consummate showmen, but this medley is another mess.  The first part of the segment is dominated by “If I Were A Rich Man,” which is transformed into a weird piece of funk that never rises above being a novelty.  “Sunrise, Sunset” fares even worse; it’s slowed down so much that it ceases to sound like a song anymore, and the harmonies are so strained that it’s impossible to tell if The Tempts are even singing in key.  Finally, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” gets an unnecessary Vegas makeover, again dominated by surprisingly discordant harmonies.  The Temptations never had a problem delivering stirring renditions of showtunes and/or pop standards; their work on “The Impossible Dream” and “Hello, Young Lovers” from TCB is a perfect example.  But nothing about this medley works; certainly there were countless better options for the guys to perform.

6.  Student Mountie:  On Broadway continues with another skit, this one casting The Temptations as Royal Canadian mounties and Diana Ross and The Supremes as Native American princesses in what I’m assuming is a spoof of operettas such as The Student Prince.  This doesn’t work as an album cut at all; thank God for the laugh track, which at least serves as a cue for what’s supposed to be funny.  If you can manage to make it through the whole thing, listen for the moment when two of The Temptations sing “Come, boys, let’s all be gay, boys” after the other three men have paired off with Supremes!

7.  The Rhythm Of Life:  Here’s some good news; after roughly seventeen minutes of total dreck on the album’s second side, On Broadway finally presents Diana Ross and The Temptations doing what they do best…singing.  “The Rhythm Of Life” is taken from the Broadway show Sweet Charity, which was turned into a movie starring Shirley MacLaine in 1969.  For whatever reason, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong were left out of this production number, but the rest of the singers do a nice job with the upbeat tune.  There’s at least some energy here, which has been missing on most of the album, and Diana’s voice nicely plays off of those of the male singers.  Interestingly, this song was apparently released as a single in some overseas markets, although not in the United States or England.

8.  Finale (Let The Sunshine In/Funky Broadway/G.I.T. On Broadway [Reprise]):  A final medley in a special crammed full of them begins with “Let The Sunshine In,” the famous song from Hair which had already been performed by Diana during the Dinah Shore Like Hep television special and included on the Supremes album of the same name earlier in 1969.  It’s too bad that there hadn’t been a larger production number built around “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” and maybe some other songs from Hair, as it would have been a better fit for these two groups than much of the actual material chosen.  As it stands, while there’s not much of “Sunshine” included here, Diana Ross and Dennis Edwards do both provide very soulful ad-libs as the rest of the vocalists wail behind them.  Next up is “Funky Broadway,” which had been recorded by the two groups for their hit 1968 LP Diana Ross and The Supremes Join The Temptations.  It actually works better here; the studio version was basically a Temptations track with a few lines thrown to Diana Ross, but here both groups share in the song more equally, although Dennis Edwards remains the star, offering up fiery vocals to the song made popular by Wilson Pickett.  And finally, there really isn’t a reprise of the title track at all, simply Diana Ross saying farewell to the audience.  Which, given how lackluster the title track was, isn’t a bad thing.

***

It’s too bad that a second television special featuring Diana Ross and The Supremes and Temptations wasn’t modeled more closely on the first; certainly both groups had enough hits that an entirely different show packed with recognizable songs could have put together.  “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “Love Child,” “Cloud Nine,” “I’m Livin’ In Shame,” and “Run Away Child, Running Wild” all could have made awesome production numbers and showcased some of the best late 60s material recorded at Motown.  Instead, listeners are left with a limp collection of pure kitsch, an album that never stood a chance at making any kind of real impact and remains perhaps the weakest disc in either group’s catalog.  This probably all worked a lot better when it aired on television in 1969…but today, it sounds like a Broadway show worth closing.

Final Analysis: 1/5 (A “Broadway” Flop)

Choice Cuts:  Leading Lady Medley, “The Rhythm Of Life”  

Diana Ross Supremes Temptations On Broadway Inside Gate

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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18 Responses to On Broadway (1969)

  1. Reese says:

    Thanks for another great review.

    I bought this album for $1.99 back in the 70s. Having never seen the tv show, all I had to go on was the photos inside the album jacket and the album itself. Back then, my favorites were the Malteds Over Manhattan sketch, the Student Mountie sketch, the Leading Lady medley, and the finale, especially Diana’s vocals on FUNKY BROADWAY.

    It wasn’t until the 90s that I actually saw the special and it was much the way I had pictured it after listening to the album for years. Also, the order of the album is completely different from the order in which the songs were performed on tv. Also, one number, a medley of IT AIN’T NECESSARILY SO and SUMMERTIME by the Supremes didn’t make it to the soundtrack album at all. Even more baffling, Diana’s solo on FUNKY BROADWAY is totally edited out of the tv show.

    In the end, I think it is a nice special in that 60s variety sort of way. It certainly doesn’t work as well as TCB, but I think it is a nice addition to the Supremes/Tempts catalog.

    BTW: In the section you mention of the STUDENT MOUNTIE sketch, when two of the Tempts sing “Let’s all be gay, boys!”, on the special, two of the guys skip off stage, arm in arm. 🙂

    • Paul says:

      Reese – I’ve seen a clip of the “Student Mountie” sketch and I LOVE the little skip that the two Temps do 🙂 What a weird, funny moment that must have spoken to more than a few fans who were tuning in!!

  2. david hess says:

    aside from ,Bit Of Liverpool , this album is a huge disspointment.i have never been able to really listen to it. I am not sure who came up with the broadway theme to it but , they should have been fired and this album never released. the specials looks spectacular by standards of Bob Mackie costumes, to bad the actual special didn’t live up to the costume sor the previous tv special.
    after thought, I am surprised the didn’t perform the Funny Girl medley in this special, or used the footage from TCB.

    • Paul says:

      Agreed — I definitely rank this and A Bit Of Liverpool as the weakest Supremes albums of the 1960s. I don’t think either one adds much value to the group’s discography, and I’m not even sure The Supremes or The Tempts enjoyed this one too much.

  3. Jimi LaLumia says:

    this is a reflection of it’s time./.’camp’ was ‘in’. NBC’s big new hit was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, and this has to be seen (and heard) in the context of that time period, and, in that context, it ain’t so bad..you young kids, I tell ya..lol..

    • Paul says:

      Haha…I know, I know! I think were I reviewing a DVD of the special, I’d feel differently…at least somewhat. But without visuals, the skits fall flat (to me)…in a way even the skits on DIANA! don’t. I think had the special included a few hits along with the Broadway songs, it would have livened up the album, as it would have allowed the groups a better opportunity for vocals. But…you’re right…not having been alive in the 60s, I’m probably missing something!

      • Jimi LaLumia says:

        ..and as with “T.C.B.”, it was a forward breakthrough, especially in uptight white households like mine… at the time of T.C.B. I can’t think of any other big national network prime time special (or show for that matter) to feature an all black lineup.. it was thrilling to me, and probably not so thrilling in certain parts of the country, especially co-opting so much ‘white music’ in G.I.T. which I think was brilliant… for you young uns out there, don’t worry about how ‘un-groovy’ some of it sounds in retrospect, and pay more attention to how ground breaking both of these events were to pop culture in the late 1960’s…. and Paul, you should collect all this passionate work you’ve done between two covers and release a book… I would be the first in line to buy it… Please do more, you are so spot on…

      • Paul says:

        THANK YOU — collecting these album discussions into book-form is definitely something I’ve been thinking more and more about!

  4. david hess says:

    lol, I was alive in the 60s……mind you I was about 7….but I have watched parts of this. just wish it was more like TCB or better medleys. I have seen the supremes on various tv clips sks ed Sullivan with all their broadway medleys and all are better than this.

    • Paul says:

      David — I agree with you. For me, there’s just a lack of energy or innovation here that makes for rather dull listening. The Supremes and The Temptations fared far better with Broadway tunes elsewhere!

  5. benjaminblue says:

    Several notes on the Leading Lady medley:

    First, the transition into “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” borrowed the introduction from “Spooky,” the then-current Classics IV song later covered by Dusty Springfield; this hook was a nod to younger viewers who may not have been familiar with the Broadway classics, and it made the segment accessible, fresh and of the times; it was not stale old material, by any means, and Diana Ross was gorgeous and gorgeously attired and photographed.

    Second, when Diana Ross performed this medley in her initial nightclub/concert appearances as a solo artist, it was the centerpiece of her show. She wore a pink long-sleeved minidress, and her two male singer/dancers changed its accessories on stage in a series of quick blackouts as she proceeded from song to song. The pink and white add-ons, presumably designed by Bob Mackie, based on those from this special, included, for instance, a white cowboy hat and gun-and-holster belt for “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” and a ruffled floor-length skirt and dainty parasol for “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.” She wore a flouncy white pinafore and a over-size bow in her hair for “People” and then she, herself, removed these in a teasingly slow, sexy bump-and-grind manner while she vamped through “Let Me Entertain You,” also from Gypsy; this extra routine may have been deemed too suggestive for television, but its presence in her ongoing show may have anticipated and addressed your concern that “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” the song belonging to Mother Rose was an odd choice. She slipped off stage briefly before returning in a pink crushed velvet/white feather outfit similar to that she wore on the TV special for her “Mame” segment finale. This medley received rousing applause and gasps of recognition throughout, so the TV show and soundtrack, in the context of the times, had great impact and memorability.

    For those who missed her initial concerts, Diana Ross wore a long lemon yellow gown with white embroidery on its bell-shaped sleeves when she took the stage, singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” “Reflections” and “The Nitty Gritty” among other songs. (The shade of yellow was slightly lighter and brighter than the hue of her “Lady Sings The Blues” Billie-meets-Louis outfit; seemingly Diana and/or Bob Mackie thought it was a very good color for her, and the improvised dialog in the nightclub scene found Billy Dee Williams commenting that the color of the dress was effective in bringing out the tones of her skin.) Then, after a quick off-stage change, she reappeared in the “Rhythm Of Life” black and orange costume — again, drawing recognition, whether from the TV airing or from the soundtrack album jacket photos — as she and the male singer/dancers performed that song, after which she sang “Reach Out & Touch.” The Leading Lady Medley was the third part of the show, and she re-emerged for her final numbers, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” in a long red sequined gown.

    So, while the Funny Girl and On Broadway albums may have been dismissed by some critics then or now, they served Diana Ross quite well back in the day. They seemed to be parts of a coordinated, well thought-through effort to make her transition from lead singer of the Supremes to solo status seamless and natural. It was a daring, dazzling package, one none of her contemporaries would conceptualize or could be capable of pulling off so precisely, perfectly and completely, night after night, and it represented an astonishing progression from the Talk Of The Town-era Supremes’ concerts through the Funny Girl and On Broadway albums to her solo debut, Lady Sings The Blues, Mahogany and her two lush, elaborate, scripted shows, An Evening With Diana Ross (still available on CD) and the Down-the-Staircase Entrance show (still available on DVD, in its Las Vegas iteration). Throughout, there was a feeling of optimism, triumph and celebration! And people of all colors and generations came together for that positive message.

    • Paul says:

      Thank you so much for these insights! There is no doubt that Motown put much thought into launching Diana as a solo star, and it completely paid off. Had Miss Ross been rushed out of the group any earlier (it had apparently been discussed as far back as 1966), there never would have been the kind of anticipation that resulted from calculated moves like these TV specials. I agree that if On Broadway does anything, it further makes the case for Diana Ross as a showbiz entity on her own.

      I hope someday Diana’s first solo act is released in entirety on CD/digital platforms. A performance of “Something On My Mind” from The Grove was released on the reissue of 1970’s Diana Ross — and it would be wonderful to hear the full “Let’s See If Diana Ross Can Do It By Herself Show” if only to gain a better insight into how Motown was positioning Diana as a solo entertainer in the very beginning.

      Thanks again for this great addition to my post!

  6. david hess says:

    I think a book Paul is a good idea, maybe in the shape of an album with picture covers, artwork chart info etc.cant wait. I just want an autographed copy!

  7. david hess says:

    just don’t get them pushing the broadway songs on the public . I would get so frustrated in the 70s when Diana would be on tv and I would tune in to hear her new song and she would sing AINT NOBODYS BUSINESS IF I DO or LADY IS A TRAMP. in the long run I think it cost her points in the top 40 as new singles didn’t get the push they needed, I remember vividly this happened when Diana’s album Baby Its Me album was released and she was on the Tonight Show and I thought sure she was going to sing Gettin Ready For Love but instead would sing one of the previously mentioned songs. this whole thing of making her like Streisand, how about make her Diana Ross and sing the hits. one of the reason I can’t listen to her 1977 live set just filled with rushed medleys even Touch Me in The Morning is rushed thru in about 2 minutes. I think my favorite era was 1976 -1981. just my opinion

  8. Jimi LaLumia says:

    you’re forgetting the late 60’s/ early 70’s nightclub audience that Gordy was courting to obtain those years long contracts with big paydays, starting with The Copa… those crowds wanted to hear ‘standards’, and if there were enough standards in a set, they would tolerate the Motown hits.. believe me, the kids buying the hit 45s were not showing up at The Fountainbleu and Caesar’s Palace, or the Copa or Talk Of The Town in London, to see The Supremes..lol

  9. jamesrainbowboy says:

    Did The Supremes never do a “conventional” concert tour? As in, just tour with their own material in local venues? Or was Gordy never interested in the group connecting with record-buying fans in that way?

  10. Finally we get here! This literally was my favourite Supremes record EVER (along with Rodgers & Hart…and of course Greatest Hits). I wore out my copy of this LP the number of times I played it. The ‘Leading Lady Medley’ was the stand out and by hook or by crook I had to own it as an MP3 file I missed it so much. I know that for many this is indicative of the mainstreaming of Diana Ross & The Supremes but I can’t help that I love the kitschness of the show and considering what variety television looked like back in the day (you’ve only got to look at Laugh-In, Sonny & Cher & Carol Burnett) to see how camp comedy and music hours could be to see how easily this special sits in the genre. And damn if Mackie didn’t work overtime for La Ross! I will always be an unabashed fan of this particular soundtrack!

  11. Jimi LaLumia says:

    The Supremes did conventional tours but the show was the show… and their fans of all ages were happy to see them… they were the ‘trojan horse’ of the civil rights movement, helping people of color get past the ‘gates keepers’ and helped make the world change in a very big way.. if you weren’t around, it’ll be hard to understand the world before and after The Supremes

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