Review of Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations on Broadway

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    March 29, 2019
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    When the curtain came up at the Imperial Theatre and as the stage directions say “Lights up on a stage exploding in lights and energy. Five men dressed in fly suits and hair slicked like bullets are center stage. They move as smooth as melted butter on a biscuit;” and then they began to sing the familiar words “You’ve got a smile so bright/You know you could have been a candle,” all I could think was, wow, the vocals aren’t very tight for a Broadway show. And then I realized, the audience was singing along. From the very first moment in Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations it is impossible not to be completely engaged.

    Obviously, the music of The Temptations and the audience’s identification with it has a lot to do with that immediate connection. Like certain smells are able to evoke strong memories, so too can music. And there’s no doubt that The Temptations' music is the soundtrack to the lives of a wide swath of generations from Baby Boomers to Millennials. The group started in 1960 and continues to perform today. But Ain’t Too Proud isn’t just another jukebox musical. It’s based on founding member Otis Williams’ (Derrick Baskin) memoir “The Temptations,” and in the musical he is the narrator. As the only one of the “classic five” Temptations alive today, it’s only fitting he’s the one to tell the story.

    And quite a story it is. Full of hard work and drama, personal conflict and social and political revolutions, the story of The Temptations, is also the story of the famed record label Motown. So, it is the story of R&B music and it’s rise on the American music scene. As exemplified by The Temptations, there is absolutely nothing more compelling than that tale. Noted playwright Dominique Morisseau, who is no stranger to writing about the world of music, has woven the narrative with the music brilliantly. And director Des McAnuff, who won both Tony and Olivier awards for his work on Jersey Boys and who also helmed Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, keeps the excitement going at a steady clip.

    But the real star of the show is the music of The Temptations. And there are over 31 of their songs, and some other familiar tunes from the period, that are presented with stunning vocal arrangements by Kenny Seymour, and the fabulously talented voices of the cast of Ain’t Too Proud. If you remember that era – you will be transported back in an instant. If you are being introduced, you will get a glimpse of a time you will wish you had experienced. Paul Tazewell’s costumes are spot on, and while Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is a bit too energetic to be an accurate representation of the moves of the original group, it certainly gives you the essence of it with a modern twist.

    (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

    "As befits a show about the Temptations, the most infectiously rhythmic of chart-topping R&B groups, Ain't Too Proud keeps time in style. I don’t mean that solely in terms of a beat that makes you feel like dancing. Of course, as you watch this latest entry in Broadway’s ever-expanding jukebox musical sweepstakes, you will no doubt find your legs twitching, as if from muscle memory. That’s the urge being translated with such sublime grace by those five natty men on the stage, Platonic ideals of stepping high and looking fine. But it is also true that time, unforgiving and unstoppable, is cannily presented as the shaping element in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, which opened on Thursday under the shrewd direction of Des McAnuff, with sensational choreography by Sergio Trujillo."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Ain’t Too Proud is a polished tribute ride to an act that keeps on going, albeit with different singers: Williams notes there have been 24 Temps since the early ’60s, when the group started. Proud this show is — but distinctive, it ain’t."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Post

    "As musical theater, Ain’t Too Proud could generously be described as shameless. But as an evening of musical entertainment, it ain’t too shabby."
    Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

    "The hardest workout in New York right now has got to be the one being demonstrated eight shows a week by the principal cast of Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. The actors stepping in for the Motown group's changing lineup over the years barely pause long enough in the linking scenes between numbers to catch their breath and let the sweat dry before launching into another spirited vocal performance with vigorous dance grooves to match. Sure, there are craft issues with a show that's more narrated than dramatized; we'll get to those in a minute. But as a fan experience, this high-energy tribute delivers big time."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "Polished performances, slick choreography (by Sergio Trujillio) and a slate of 31 Motown tunes should satisfy audiences who might not be looking for probing storytelling, as long as the show delivers well-performed hits. That it does, as it centers on the story of the classic quintet of performers singing “Cloud Nine,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” ”My Girl,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and the title song, among others — including some songs that weren’t the group’s own."
    Frank Rizzo for Variety