A New York Theatre Guide to... Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations!
Here's all you need to know about the smoothest jukebox musical in town...
Get Ready! The Broadway premiere of Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, currently nominated for a staggering 12 Tony Awards, is packing them into the Imperial Theatre eight shows a week and bringing you all the hits and the smoothest moves on the Great White Way! Following regional productions at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre (the highest-grossing production in that theatre’s history), in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and in Toronto, the story of Motown’s all-conquering Temptations landed in New York and began performances on February 28, 2019 and officially opened to rave reviews on March 21.
What’s it all about?
With founding member and last man standing Otis Williams as our guide, Ain’t Too Proud charts the meteoric rise of perhaps the greatest group in R&B history. From humble and troubled beginnings in Detroit (which also included a spell behind bars), Otis emerges and - one-by-one - puts together a talented vocal group of African American men. With the additions of Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, and (eventually) David Ruffin, the classic five of the group who would be known as The Temptations were born. After catching a break and signing with Berry Gordy’s Motown Records, the hits just kept on coming... But Ain’t Too Proud doesn’t shy away from the darker side of this ensemble’s history, exploring how personal demons constantly threatened it all. From drug addiction and alcoholism to domestic violence and suicide, the path for The Temptations was always filled with tragic obstacles, but as Otis reminds us, it is their music that will live forever...
Who’s starring in it?
Almost the entire original Broadway company has been together since the 2017 world premiere in Berkeley and they were already running like a well-oiled machine by the first Broadway preview. They are led by five outrageously charismatic and uber-talented gentlemen, who have varying degrees of experience on Broadway, and it seems as if they’ve been together their whole lives. The cornerstone of the cast is Derrick Baskin as Otis Williams, who has previously been seen on the Broadway stage in shows such as Memphis, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The show-stealing performances come from Jeremy Pope, who wowed Broadway audiences earlier this season by leading the cast of Choir Boy, and Ephraim Sykes, who you may remember as Seaweed in NBC’s “Hairspray Live!” in 2016. Pope and Sykes play Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, respectively. All three of these original Broadway cast members have been justly rewarded and are currently nominated for Tony Awards for their exceptional talent. Then, if that wasn’t enough, you have the beautifully deep, creamy bass (not to mention a dose of comic relief) from Jawan M. Jackson as Melvin Franklin and James Harkness deals perhaps the biggest emotional blow of the night as Paul Williams. Finally, the hard-working, multi-tasking ensemble brings a multitude of characters to life on stage, including familiar faces such as Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Tammi Terrell and The Supremes, just to name a few.
What’s special about this production?
Not only does Ain’t Too Proud shower you with an embarrassment of riches, when it comes to live renditions of all those classic Temptations anthems from “My Girl” to “Just My Imagination” and from “Cloud Nine” to “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” but it also has plenty of meat on the bone in terms of storytelling. The problem with 2013’s Motown The Musical was arguably its thin narrative, stretched even thinner across a plethora of artists and personalities. Here, concentrating solely on The Temptations, you get a real sense of the men behind the music. You connect with them through Dominique Morisseau’s writing and through the cast’s energetic yet earnest performances. You rejoice in their triumphs. You become infuriated by the personal conflict within the group, as if you were a sixth member. And you mourn their losses. Whereas some bio-musicals struggle to create an entertaining piece from a less than interesting biography, The Temptations’ story and their tribulations that led to its eternally rotating roster offer up ample, satisfying story arcs for a Broadway musical. Also, having Otis constantly breaking the fourth wall as our narrator works perfectly both as a theatrical device and simply because he was historically there at the beginning and to this day is the last man standing in the group. Oh, and did we mention the choreography? Thank you, Sergio Trujillo!
Who would we recommend it to?
Obviously fans of The Temptations - or the Motown era in general - will feel like they’ve visited Cloud Nine after seeing this musical, but it’s also a great production for first-timers to the theatre, who are certain to find its energy infectious. It’s perhaps not entirely suitable for youngsters because of its use of colorful language and drug references, but it certainly has multi-generational appeal. So, why not treat the grandparents to a trip down Memory Lane… that’s if you Ain’t Too Proud to Beg for a ticket!
Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations Tickets are available now.
(Photos by Matthew Murphy)