Based on the book entitled “The Temptations” by Otis Williams and Patricia Romanowski with music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalogue, this show tells of the birth, early history, and longevity of ‘The Temptations’ as a group, and as individuals in their own right. We have Otis Williams to thank for this record as he was the original instigator for the group and the glue that held it together for so many years.
Like the musical “Tina” for Tina Turner, “Ain’t Too Proud” is a fascinating retelling of the beginnings of the group through various trials and errors, successes and setbacks, personalities and conflicts – yet it always remains true to its brotherhood. They cared for each other, and they cared for the group.
Michael Andreaus as Otis Williams narrates and takes us on a journey owning every twist of his story and every highlight as well. His voice is sublime and anchors the other ‘Temptations’ throughout the show. E. Clayton Cornelious as Paul Williams is the heart of the group trying to keep them all together and getting along. Harrell Holmes Jr. as the bass Melvin Franklin is fantastic and subtle in his performance as the backbone of the group. Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks is outstanding in his performance and his falsetto, angelic. Elijah Ahmad Lewis is David Ruffin whose lead vocals sends the group beyond the ordinary and launches them all into stardom. These play the original five members of the ‘Temptations’ and their voices are incredible, their harmonies exalting, and their acting superb, illustrating the dynamics of the group. Added to this roster is Dennis Edwards played by Dwayne P. Mitchell, Richard Street played by Devin Holloway, and Damon Harris played by Derek Adams.
Growing up with “The Temptations” playing on the radio and listening to their records one cannot help but move to their music. The nostalgia it induces is a great deal responsible for the entertaining value of this musical. Also present in the first act are a few renditions of 50’s hits with those soaring falsettos and catchy counter-rhythms. All testifying to the amazing vocal stylings of the era.
I would not categorize ”Ain’t Too Proud,” nor the “Tina” musical as ‘jukebox’ musicals for the simple reason that they are narratives of the artists at the point in their lives when they were making the songs. These are real autobiographical stories dependent on the music happening at the time, not made-up narratives in order to fit the music into.
There was one minor point that bears mentioning concerning the choreography on “Ain’t Too Proud,” that it was over-choreographed with too much emphasis on intricate movements with many turns and anachronistic movement that is at home in 2017 instead of 1965. The wonderful thing about the ‘Temps’ is the way they moved so smoothly with ease and elegance. They were very well rehearsed in their group movements and rarely did more than one turn while performing. It seems that choreographer Sergio Trujillo wanted to update the Temptations’ movement for Broadway. It is a shame really because the whole magic and power of the original group was in how they made every move in their songs appear effortless and a natural outgrowth of the rhythms inherent. They also wore full suits and ties while performing adding to the elegance and sophistication of what they were singing about. The whole opening number to the show had the group moving so much that I thought they were competing on ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ The Temptations were smooth, subtle, refined. That was part of their attraction.
Lighting by Howell Binkley was gorgeous and dramatic when called for delivering focus exactly where it was needed. Ably directed by Des McAnuff the performances were solid and true. This is a fine tribute to the group, the music, and the artists including Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and Shelly Berger, who made it all happen.
“Ain’t Too Proud” continues at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts through October 29, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.
Written by Brian Fretté for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Harrel Holmes Jr., Jalen Harris, Dwayne P. Mitchell, Michael Andreaus, E. Clayton Cornelious from the National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud – Photo Credit: © 2023 Emilio Madrid.