ain’t too proud (The Life and Times of The Temptations)
With book by Dominique Morisseau and music from the Motown Catalog
Based on the book The Temptations by Otis Williams (with Patricia Romanowski)
Directed by Des McAnuff
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
Featuring: Derrick Baskin, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Ephraim Sykes, Saint Aubyn, Shawn Bowers, Marquell Edward Clayton, E. Clayton Cornelius, Taylor Symone Jackson, Jarvis B. Manning, Jr., Joshua Morgan, Rashida Scott, Nasia Thomas, Christian Thompson, Candace Marie Woods, Esther Antoine, Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., Curtis Wiley
Ain’t Too Proud (The Life and Times of the Temptations) is the newest jukebox musical that kicks off Mirvish Productions fall season at the Princess of Wales Theatre. This production originated at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California this past summer and like Green Day’s American Idiot, which also originated at Berkeley Rep several years ago, is now on its way to Broadway. With book by Dominique Morisseau and music from the legendary Motown Catalogue, the show does just what a good jukebox musical ought to do. Or as Stephen Sondheim once said about this popular genre, “today the audiences walk into the theatre humming the tunes.”
One takeaway from Ain’t Too Proud that might be solace to struggling artists everywhere is a humble word of advice from Otis Williams (played in the show by Derrick Baskin), the last surviving member of the original rhythm and blues group: “The Temptations released 24 single records (45 rpms) before they had their first hit.” Or as Samuel Becket once said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
And so the trials and tribulations of The Temptations unfold for two pleasant hours of stage time with the memories and the music of the good times superseding the bad times which were often very bad indeed.
Book writer Dominique Morisseau has chosen to make Derrick Baskin’s Otis do most of the heavy lifting here with regard to story line and narration at the expense of building the roles of some of the other members of the group. It was the steady and caring hand of Otis Williams who both led the group into becoming The Temptations and who also had to deliver them from evil when it was necessary. With the exception of Ephraim Sykes as the supremely talented but emotionally troubled David Ruffin, Baskin is tasked with keeping us all engaged and interested. This is not an easy task for any actor. Exposition dialog is always the necessary medicine that somehow needs to be sugar coated a bit to help it all do down. It tells us initially and sometimes has to remind us of the who-what-when-where and why (or how) of the story. Otis is the last man standing and it falls to him, I guess, but it does begin to wear thin after awhile.
But in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Morriseau is a gifted writer and she knows when to cut to the chase – that being the next tune. She is aided in this regard by former Stratford Festival director Des (Jersey Boys) MacAnuff who, like a traffic cop at the height of rush hour, marshals the actors on and off the stage with the precision of a drill captain. But the real mover and shaker in all of this is choreographer Sergio Trujillo.
The last bio musical I saw dealing with this period in American pop culture was Beautiful, which portrayed the life and times of composer Carol King. A parallel plot within the musical tracked some of the Black artists that King wrote songs for; The Shiralles, Little Eva, The Drifters, etc. The show lifted whenever these singers launched into a musical number and part of the excitement was due to the choreographic effect created by Josh Prince who really put “the moves” back into the motion.
Trujillo does the same in Ain’t Too Proud but really notches it up quite a bit. Go to youtube and watch some of the old Dick Clark American Bandstand videos of the period. The choreography looks perfunctory and a bit tired at times. As if for the umpteenth time, the group had to go out on stage and just do it again. Here and now, on stage in 2018, Trujillo has cleaned up those iconic gestures and swirls and arm lifts so that they are born again. Truly wonderful to behold.
One quibble with the opening night in Toronto was that the sound mix seemed off a bit. It would also help the Broadway opening to expand the orchestra with some added horns and woodwinds and certainly an enlarged string section, especially for songs like My Girl.
I must say I really enjoyed ain’t too proud. In fact, I enjoyed it much more than Jersey Boys even though the book in Jersey Boys did a better job of fleshing out character development. But these things are totally subjective because in the end – be it musical theatre or opera – it all boils down to the music and your own taste in terms of what you like. So just to let you know, if this one is not to your own particular taste, have no fear – there are plenty more in the hopper coming your way soon, including the bio-musical Cher (opening in December on Broadway), and three upcoming bio-films; Bohemian Rhapsody (based on Freddie Mercury and Queen), Rocket Man (Elton John) and the big megillah, Mama Mia, Here We Go Again! (reprising the music of Abba).
Here we go again, indeed. And again, and again…
Ain’t Too Proud
Princess of Wales Theatre