AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS lives up to its title—the jukebox musical proudly displays a wide array of songs from The Temptations’s iconic catalog. The show, now in its first national tour following the Broadway production, follows a similar structure like predecessors JERSEY BOYS and BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL. It uses The Temptations’s songs to tell the story of the band, and of course, focuses primarily on the Classic Five: Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, and David Ruffin from their early days in Detroit all the way to musical stardom.
Dominique Morisseau understood the assignment when writing the book for AIN’T TOO PROUD—her dialogue transitions swiftly between songs. She keeps the action moving at a nice clip—although the first act feels overly long, then the sequence of major events in the second act becomes rushed. Morisseau manages to pack many details from the lives of the band into the book, though she also doesn’t entirely avoid the common challenge in biographical jukebox musicals of rushing through the more serious events in the name of fun. While she does make entirely clear the racism The Temptations faced and the cultural context for their musical (perhaps most notably the group’s response to the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), the musical doesn’t probe these issues too deeply. Likewise, the female characters are few and far between and unfortunately underwritten. Otis’s wife Josephine, while elegantly played by Najah Hetsberger, seems to only exist onstage to complain about the fact that he’s never home.
Morisseau’s book employs Otis Williams as the show’s narrator, which anchors audiences as they move through the band’s history. Given that the book was based on THE TEMPTATIONS by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski, it’s a clever framing device. Consequently, Otis forms the beating heart of the musical. The ultimate result is a focus on the thoroughly enjoyable music, and that makes sense given the nature of the show.
Des McAnuff’s direction also ensures the transition between scenes and songs are smooth and flow nicely to tell as cohesive a story as possible given the vast amount of ground the show covers. Sergio Trujillo gives us his classically elegant variations on the step-touch with his choreography; the movements are immediately recognizable as his work. Robert Brill’s bombastic set design is replete with visual wonders and works well with Peter Nigrini’s seamlessly executed projections. Likewise, Paul Tazewell’s costumes fully root audiences in the time period and also the razzle dazzle of The Temptations’s coordinated outfits.
As with most jukebox musicals, the real reason to see AIN’T TOO PROUD is to hear The Temptations’s iconic songs performed by a dynamite cast. Marcus Paul James is superb as Otis Williams; he’s endearing as he narrates the show’s events, and his performance is charming without becoming too slick. Of course, each of the actors in the Classic Five (James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Harrell Holmes Jr. as Melvin Franklin, Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, and Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin) are standout vocalists in their own right. They also harmonize beautifully, which is a necessity for the show to succeed. Lewis in particular makes some interesting vocal choices, switching between moments with a lighter sound and others to full-on belt—and that makes all the belting moments all the more thrilling. Likewise, Harris is a treat to hear; his voice has an immense amount of power that fits the vocal part deliciously. The other Temptations members are likewise incredibly talented, including Brett Michael Lockley as Al Bryant, Devin Holloway as Dennis Edwards, and Lawrence Dandrige as Richard Street,
Deri’Andra Tucker, Shayla Brielle G., and Traci Elaine Lee also provide some of the best vocals of the show in their appearance as the Supremes—playing the roles of Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson respectively. They make lovely work of the Supremes medley, and it’s fun to hear them sing alongside The Temptations on “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.”
“Get Ready” to hear classic songs like “My Girl,” “Shout,” the title song, and more performed with energy and joy in AIN’T TOO PROUD. While the musical doesn’t do anything groundbreaking in the jukebox category, this is a show that understands how that format works and delivers handily on showcasing The Temptations’ famous song catalog and group history.
The national tour of AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS plays Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, through June 5, 2022. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com for tickets.
Photo Credit: Emilio Madrid