Ain’t Too Proud

Written on October 18th, 2018

The Life and Times of The Temptations   

Those of us who grew up in southwestern Ontario within the airwaves of The Big 8 CKLW knew The Temptations and every one of their songs.  While Berry Gordy’s Motown is credited with making them famous, the Canadian radio station and its millions of listeners on both sides of the Windsor-Detroit border certainly had a hand in it.  Ain’t Too Proud, now on stage at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, will attract a large audience of nostalgia seekers, listening for the sound of CKLW as it was in the late sixties and early seventies.

The audience is offered plenty of nostalgia in this new musical, chock full of songs “from the Legendary Motown Catalog”, as the program says.  The list includes all the rhythm and blues numbers written mostly by Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield, who worked for Motown.  Theatregoers will know “My Girl”, The Temptations’ first big hit, and the many that followed it:  “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “Papa was a Rolling Stone”, “Just my Imagination (Running Away with Me)”, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)”, “I Wish it would Rain”, “Run Away Child, Running Wild”, “Get Ready”, “War (What is it Good for), and many more.

Ain’t Too Proud is directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, the same duo that brought us the Broadway hit, Jersey Boys, a similar story about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  McAnuff is a former Artistic Director at the Stratford Festival, and took their production of Jesus Christ Superstar to Broadway.  McAnuff’s brilliant handiwork is obvious throughout the show, and Trujillo has outdone himself with the choreography.  The Temptations were known for their amazingly smooth moves, all synchronized as they were singing.  Trujillo has actually improved on the originals.

Billed as The Life and Times of The Temptations, the plot is sadly familiar.  In fact, The Temptations followed the same path set out by the Four Seasons.  The musical about Buddy Holly is also similar.  An eager young man, who has had a brush with the law, forms a group, and together they work hard to reach fame.  Once they become famous, holding the group together is difficult.  Each member wants his time to shine in the spotlight, and jealousies erupt.  Arrogance, attitude and infighting lead to alcohol and drug abuse.

The Temptations’ story is set apart by the segregation they faced, and also by their ability to cross over to the “white audience”.  Members of the group leave and are replaced.  In all, from 1963 to today, 24 different men can call themselves The Temptations.

In Ain’t Too Proud, the character Otis Williams narrates the story.  He is the founder of the group who mainly sang background, and the last member still alive.  The role is played by Derrick Baskin, whose cadence is occasionally difficult to understand.  The character David Ruffin is the front man for most of the time.  I saw the part played by understudy Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., who had the powerhouse voice down pat.  I hear that the regular in that role, Ephraim Sykes, is also outstanding.  Jawan M. Jackson, as Melvin Franklin, has the deep bass voice so recognizable in The Temptations’ harmonies.

There are numerous cast members, all playing several roles very well.  Most notable is Rashidra Scott, who plays Otis’ girlfriend Josephine.  Scott’s powerful voice is a force to be reckoned with.

The staging is good:  a marquis lets you know it’s The Temptations, and the names of different cities on their many tours are projected above.  A conveyor belt across the front of the stage brings characters on and off, while a turntable behind it moves them around efficiently.  The large orchestra is outstanding, perfectly re-creating the Motown sound.

What this show lacks is humour.  There are funny scenes in Jersey Boys, but Ain’t Too Proud just gives us the facts.  Nevertheless, it will be popular for its singing and choreography.

Ain’t Too Proud is in Toronto right now, being groomed for Broadway.  See it here first, before it moves to New York City.  It’s an amazing collection of Motown’s best, for the nostalgic enjoyment for any fan of that music and era.

Ain’t Too Proud continues with eight shows a week at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto until November 17.  Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets

Photo: Derrick Baskin, Jeremy Pope, Jawan M. Jackson, Ephraim Sykes and James Harkness as The Temptations. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Ain’t Too Proud
Book by Dominique Morisseau
Based on the book entitled The Temptations by Otis Williams
Music & Lyrics from the Legendary Motown Catalog
Directed by Des McAnuff
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
Musical Direction by Kenny Seymour
Produced by David Mirvish
Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
October 11 to November 17, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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