One of R&B most significant groups, “The Temptations” story comes to the stage in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. The play is making its pre-Broadway debut at the world-renowned Kennedy Center. Directed by Des McAnuff and written by Dominique Morisseau, Ain’t Too Proud is a jukebox musical seen through the eyes of Temptations group leader Otis Williams portrayed by Derrick Baskin.
While I’ve seen The Temptations miniseries numerous times in addition to reading books written on the group, seeing Ain’t to Proud was a real treat. One of the first things that stood out to me was writer Dominique Morisseau’s decision to give some more information on Otis’s backstory. In the past I’ve somewhat judged Otis as an arrogant diva, however after seeing the play, I understood more of the motivation behind his behavior.
In the lead role of Williams, Baskins was a joy to watch. Throughout the entire performance, I never felt that Baskin was talking at the audience. Instead, Baskins speaks to the audience which makes his story more inspiring. James Harkness (Paul Williams), Jawan M. Jackson (Melvin Franklin), Jeremy Pope (Eddie Kendricks) and the electrifying Ephraim Sykes (David Ruffin) make up the rest of The Tempts. Each actor brings out the best in their roles, and I felt as if I was watching some of the real temps.
As Melvin Franklin, Jawan Jacksons nails Franklin’s iconic bass voice, while Jeremy Pope showcases Eddie Kendrick’s signature falsetto and love of cornbread. However, the highlight of the cast for me is Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin. Instead of using a well-known actor/singer to portray the iconic Ruffin, the production uses the unknown Sykes. While Sykes doesn’t necessarily possess the same grit in his singing that Ruffin had, he makes the song his own. Two of the signature songs Temptations songs “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” truly showcases Sykes singing style.
Since Ain’t Too Proud is a jukebox musical, expect to hear tons of great music from The Legendary Motown Songbook. Composed, of 32 songs, the soundtrack to Ain’t Too Proud features just about every signature hit from The Temptations. I would have to say my favorite musical numbers in the play would have to be “You’re My Everything” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” which showcased Jeremy Pope’s smooth falsetto.
I also enjoyed the choreography by Sergio Trujillo. Watching the actors glide across the stage and pull off in sync dance moves was very impressive. The supporting cast who make up critical figures in The Temptations story are excellent. Jahi Kearse portrays Motown executive Berry Gordy while Christian Thompson plays Smokey Robinson.
If I had one small compliment about Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, it’s the same compliment I had with the miniseries The Temptations. Like the miniseries, the latter Tempts, really aren’t focused on. Dennis Edwards who sang lead during the group’s psychedelic funk and disco periods doesn’t have a storyline. There’s also no mention of Ali-Ollie Woodson, who replaced Dennis Edwards and sang lead on “Treat Her Like a Lady” one of the group biggest hits from the eighties.
Nevertheless, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations is a highly enjoyable musical. With winning musical numbers and a great cast, I highly recommend that you make time to see it. Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations will be in town until July 22nd.
Final Grade A