While some might be tempted to dismiss jukebox musicals as bad — a genre that frequently receives (often legitimately) scorn for haphazardly stringing together songs in lieu of a real plot –in the case of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations” they would be remiss. The show is simply a gem; a high-energy crowd-pleaser delivered by the hardest-working cast anywhere.
Now playing at the Cadillac Theater, the musical is two-and-one-half-hours of top-notch vocals, dancing and theatrics — including drop-splits and mic-stand tricks — as well as some of the most iconic music ever put to vinyl.
You have to give it to the Temptations –every single song is a banger, and I found myself struggling not to croon along with the cast. However, quite a few folks in the audience at Wednesday’s opening night performance did not resist that urge, so be forewarned. The show is part musical, part rock concert, and part audience sing-along. Sad sacks beware! Your spirits will be lifted!
‘Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations’
With a book written by Dominique Morisseau, based on the memoir “The Temptations,” by Otis Williams (one of the original members), the story is well-constructed and personal, narrated by triple-threat Marcus Paul James, who plays an eminently likable and earnest Williams.
We follow Williams from his rough-and-tumble days as a youth, through a brief stint in jail that scares him straight, to his embrace of music as a way out of a life of crime and poverty, to his meteoric rise to stardom with one of the most legendary groups to ever grace the stage. Told with an enjoyably corny tone, the story is funny and light, yet still takes moments to acknowledge the hard truths of the era, including the struggles of the civil rights movement, and the inadequacy that musicians felt while watching the Freedom Riders fight for justice, leaving them to wonder if making music was truly enough to help the cause.
(C) 2021 Emilio Madrid
If “Ain’t Too Proud” has a flaw, it’s the pace of the storytelling, which rushes at a chaotic speed, with scenes (and blazers) transitioning in and out so quickly that at times it has the unsteady energy of a sketch comedy show.
While the sense of urgency keeps the audience invested and viscerally sharing the anxiety of the characters as they are overwhelmed by fame, the pace sells out some moments through harsh edits. For example, a welcome cameo of The Supremes (an amazing Deri’Andra Tucker, Traci Elaine Lee and Shayla Brielle G) features unsatisfying edited versions of their hit songs; and a scene honoring the untimely loss of a group member awkwardly truncates a beloved ballad, robbing the moment of its full potential. Fortunately, the consistently amazing orchestra, led by music director Jonathan “Smitti” Smith, keeps the entire show rocking so hard, you don’t have time to think about anything other than how much fun you are having.
For those of us who are old enough to have grown up listening to the music, but young enough to not remember the behind-the-scenes details, the show helps chronicle the legendary contributions of some of the titans of Motown including producer Berry Gordy, played by Michael Andreaus, and Smokey Robinson, played by a hilarious Lawrence Dandridge.
Like any good band story, there’s a fair amount of drama, and members rotate in and out, seduced by fame, women, or drugs — and the ensemble’s take on the requisite drug scene is truly hilarious. The rotating cast gives each of the Temptations a chance to shine individually, while simultaneously participating in the nonstop choreography.
Every single performer in this show is a topnotch singer-dancer. There are too many showstopper numbers to name, but some of the best included “I Can’t Get Next To You” and “Just My Imagination.” Standouts among a cast of standouts include Harrell Holmes Jr, who steals the show with his portrayal of the talented and troubled diva, Melvin Franklin. Jalen Harris delivers not only the high notes but high drama as Eddie Kendricks, and Harris Matthews as the spirited Dennis Edwards, who absolutely delivers on the iconic hit “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”
At the end of the day, “Ain’t Too Proud” is a show about brotherhood, the love of music, and the sacrifices one must make to achieve greatness.
I ain’t too proud to say that I loved this show!