Thursday, June 30, 2022

"Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations" Broadway tour at the Orpheum Theatre

The trend of biomusicals about musicians and their lives and careers has reached The Temptations, one of the most successful groups to come out of Motown. Ain't Too Proud is based on a book written by Otis Williams, one of the founding members, and the musical's book was written by acclaimed playwright Dominique Morisseau, whose plays have been produced by Penumbra Theatre and Yellow Tree Theatre (the latter did Skeleton Crew two years before its recent Broadway premiere). The musical is similar in structure to Jersey Boys, one of the first (and in my opinion best) biomusicals, which follows the life of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. In both musicals the story of the group is narrated by its members, but there's just one narrator here - Otis Williams. He tells the story of The Temptations directly to the audience, from their formation, to their early hits, to the rotating door of members. And it's chock full of great Motown hits of the '60s and '70s, by other artists as well as The Temptations. This traveling cast is truly phenomenal and brings great energy to the show, and a good time was had by all. Join the celebration on Hennepin Avenue through July 10.

Ain't Too Proud is told from the viewpoint of Otis Williams, who walks us through the life of The Temptations from the early '60s to the present (they're performing at the State Fair this year, including now 80-year-old Otis). We hear about how he formed the group, working with songwriter Smokey Robinson, coming up with a name and identity for the group, the frequent changes in membership, competing with The Supremes for top billing, and also a bit of life happening off stage (sex, drugs, and R&B). The show touches briefly on the Civil Rights movement, mentioning the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and playing in segregated clubs in the South, but doesn't delve too deeply into it. It's a whirlwind story through the decades, all accompanied by this music that is so much a part of pop culture that even if you think you don't know The Temptations, you know this music. The hits keep coming one after the other - "Get Ready," "Just My Imagination," and of course their signature hit "My Girl."

The Temptations (photo by Emilio Madrid)
The super talented cast is led by Marcus Paul James as Otis, who's so personable and charismatic, talking directly the audience, reacting to their responses. And then he turns around and seamlessly steps into the scene as Otis. He's joined by James T. Lane, Harrell Holmes Jr., and Jalen Harris as original members Paul, Melvin, and Eddie, taking turns in the spotlight and giving each guy a distinct personality, look, and sound. On opening night, understudy Harris Matthew gave a truly dynamic performance as ousted lead singer David Ruffin, pouring all of his blood, sweat, and tears into this gutsy performance. Everyone in the ensemble is great, often playing multiple roles, and by the end, everyone gets to be a Temptation (even the few women in the cast, who play The Supremes and other characters).

The Tony-winning choreography by Sergio Trujillo (who also choreographed Jersey Boys and a slew of other Broadway shows) is super smooth, crisply performed by the cast. On the dancing front, I think this crew might even be better than the original. The fantastic band comprised mostly of local musicians was kept hidden backstage until they were revealed in all their splendor during the curtain call. The music and dancing absolutely sell this show. 

The Temptations signature look is deliciously replicated, with multiple different sets of matching suits in bold colors and styles. The set includes a gray brick proscenium arch, a huge marquee descending from the rafters, a brief appearance by a classic car, and liberal use of projections, including to indicate location on tour. (Costume design by Paul Tazewell, scenic design by Robert Brill, and projection design by Peter Nigrini).

Ain't Too Proud is playing for more than "One Night Only"
in Minneapolis! (photo by Emilio Madrid)
The Temptations are an integral part of 20th Century American music, and if Broadway is going to be all about the biomusical, they absolutely deserve to be a part of it. There's nothing not to love about men in matching sharp suits, performing smooth choreography, and singing passionately in harmony.  Ain't Too Proud is a fun celebration of this iconic group, while giving us a glimpse behind the curtain. The tour continues at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis through July 10 - click here for tickets.