Ain’t too Proud, a musical about the life and times of The Temptations, opened to a sold out crowd. It is a show for all generations and brings out the very best attributes of brotherhood, accountability, complexions of loyalty and the social and political urgency intertwined in the music that defines our culture.
The Tempting Temptations were Motown’s first crossover boy band and were the model for groups like The Jackson 5, New Edition, *NSYNC and One Direction. There would be no Next Town Down or BTS with out the hyper masculine vocals of David Ruffin, the smoothed our choreography of Paul Williams, the discipline of Otis Williams, gut-dropping base of Melvin Franklin and that “let’s make a baby” tenor of Eddie Kendricks.
They not only set it off, but were so valued in Black homes that one could bet that despite age group, their songs are the most recognizable songs next to “Amazing Grace” and Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “Outstanding.” [editor’s note: I mean… let’s keep it real… everyone knows “My Girl” and definitely knows the hand motions to “The Things You Do!” No matter how hardcore Hip-Hop you are, we are not playing that little game, right there. Next thing you know you are going to say that MLK, JFK and Jesus aren’t on your grandmother’s mantle. CUT IT ALL THE WAY OUT!]
Maybe you learned about The Temps from a lived experience, the oldies on the radio or the repeat of the mini-series of BET, VH1 or MTV. However you came across them, if you are American and have some link to Black culture, you know The Temps… Or at least you thought you did.
Aint too Proud introduces them afresh to you.
The musical gives you a peek into their lives in a fresh and entertaining way. The musical, while pulling no punches, using a mother-effer here and a bullshit over there, added a level of compassion and dignity that no other documentary or biopic ever did. That’s due to the excellent book, the amazing musical arrangements and choreography, and mostly to the outstanding performances of the cast.
Led by Broadway vet Derrick Baskin, the players in this show were simply brilliant. Everyone from the group to the minor characters had us dancing in our chairs and celebrating Motown for the monumental cultural force it was. Baskin, who cut his chops in shows such as Memphis, Spelling Bee and Disney’s The Little Mermaid, was so believable in his portrayal of Otis Williams that audience members for at least two hours suspend their memories of the brown-skinned group founder. You simply believed that Baskin was the Williams.
The cast is young. And it is amazing to see how they understood and cared for the legacy they were chosen to preserve.
James Harkness made you believe that Paul Williams had a heart of gold and that his alcoholism was far more complicated than we were led to believe by watching the TV movie.
Jawan M. Jackson, who is a Detroit native, seemed to put Melvin “Blue” Williams’ persona on. He has a striking resemblance to Melvin- and had the velvet voice to match.
Jeremy Pope’s voice is like milk and honey. Fans should buy tickets just to hear him sing.
And if Pope’s angelic voice made you want to go to church, Ephraim Sykes’ made you want to run far from it. His voice possessed all the angst, sex appeal and ruthless power that David Ruffin did as a young man. Syke’s portrayal of the troubled singer also was redemptive. Unlike the movie, Ruffin’s character arc was drenched in the need to be loved and respected, adored and seen. He made him not just the villain of the group, but an emotionally arrested teen, tired of living in his brother’s shadows and thus thrust into the limelight to swiftly.
Saint Aubyn, Shawn Bowers, Taylor Symone Jackson, Rashidra Scott, Jahi Kearse, Nasia Thomas, Candice Marie “She Better Be Diana Ross” Woods and Christian Thompson just draped the core cast with all the extra sauce needed to make ensemble work seamless.
Indeed the actors were amazing, but that classic Motown catalogue was woven into the very fabric of the musical in such a way, you were magically transported back to the 1960s. It would be a disservice to name only a couple of the songs that made this musical tick. Every single note sang, every single do that was wopped, was on point.
Kudos to Des McAnuff and Sergio Trujillo for weaving this masterpiece together. Their gift will introduce this group, to a brand new generation of music enthusiasts.