Interview with Ain't Too Proud star Jelani Remy
As we "Get Ready" for Broadway theaters to re-open (hopefully sooner rather than later), we caught up with one of the stars of the smash hit musical Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. Many Broadway fans will know Jelani Remy from his three-year-long run as Simba in Disney's The Lion King on the Great White Way, but in the last couple of years, the young New Jersey native has left the comfort of the Disney Theatrical nest in search of new theatrical opportunities.
Following his Off-Broadway debut in the 2018 revival of Smokey Joe's Café, Jelani joined the Broadway company of Ain't Too Proud and would ultimately step up to fill the shoes of Tony Award nominee Jeremy Pope, taking over the role of original Temptation Eddie Kendricks last July. Since then, he's been serenading audiences with all those beloved hits from "The Way You Do the Things You Do" to "Just My Imagination"...
We reached out to Jelani to talk about his formative years, his time with Disney Theatrical, and joining The Temptations family...
Whereabouts did you grow up and what was the moment in your life you decided you wanted to pursue a career in the theater?
I grew up just outside of NYC in Cedar Grove in New Jersey. It was there, while I was in high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in theater. I started performing pretty late. I was in choir my freshman year when my teacher, Jennifer Foose asked me to audition for the school musical Grease. I did and landed the role of Doody! I instantly fell in love with the process, rehearsals, the connections and, of course, the applause! I was hooked!
Some of your first major gigs were for Disney – the National Tour of High School Musical and, of course, your starring role as Simba in The Lion King, both on the National Tour and for 3 years on Broadway! Were you always a Disney fan or was this pure coincidence?
I grew up with the Disney Channel and I’m definitely a fan but I will say that being part of Disney Theatricals was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Not only am I a forever fan, but it’s family.
What were the main reasons for leaving a secure job at The Lion King?
That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I had such a beautiful run playing Simba and I miss it to this day. It felt time to put myself out there and see what Jelani can do.
How did making your Off-Broadway debut with Smokey Joe’s Café at Stage 42 compare to your previous work?
That was definitely a special moment for me. I felt like I established Jelani outside of The Lion King. I was so grateful to find a show like Smokey Joe’s because it was built around us and we had a lot of creative input which was such a cool experience I hadn’t had before.
When did your Ain’t Too Proud journey begin? How was the process of becoming a swing for you?
I joined the cast in February for the Broadway transfer as a swing. I loved it but it was definitely most challenging learning all the shows information but I was so excited to be part of this incredible show. Of course once I got it all down - opportunity knocked!
The line-up for The Temptations has famously worked like a revolving door over the decades. Jeremy Pope was the first Temptation to leave the Broadway production and you assumed the role of Eddie Kendricks in July of last year. How was your relationship with Jeremy and did you adopt any aspects of his interpretation into your own performance?
He’s the prototype! I have so much love and respect for Jeremy. He did such a beautiful job creating this role and I have absolutely adopted so much of what he created. He’s a superstar!
How familiar were you with the music and the backstory of The Temptations before joining the show?
I knew the classic Temp songs but I wasn’t fully educated on the strugglers the group went through. Once I saw the show, I was completely blown away by the story and how well the music supported it.
What is the most exhilarating part of the show for you to perform? Which part of the show do you find the most moving emotionally? And is there any moment of the show (not involving yourself) you like to watch from the wings?
I have to say the most exhilarating is the opening number “The Way You Do TheThings You Do.” You can feel the energy and nostalgia from the audience right out the gate. The most emotional would have to be “Just My Imagination” because of where it falls for Eddie in the show. Well, I dont get much time to watch in the wings but one of my favorite moments to watch onstage is David Ruffins' entrance before "My Girl."
There has been a slew of bio-musicals over the past few years. How do you feel Ain’t Too Proud stands apart from shows like Motown the Musical, Beautiful, Tina, Summer, The Cher Show, and the upcoming MJ?
The iconic music of the Temptations speaks for itself. However, this show was written and directed in a way that invites you to go on a journey with us. It has such a special spirit and heart that makes you smile and touches your soul.
In summary, what can audiences expect from a trip to Ain’t Too Proud and is there anything they may find surprising?
You can expect to have an amazing time at the theater! The show is truly one of a kind with a beautiful and talented cast, crew and orchestra ready to tell the story of the legendary Temptations! I think you’ll be surprised at how soon you’ll want to come back!
Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations Tickets are available now.