There are not enough superlatives to accurately describe the raucous and simply irresistible speed train of joy that is Ain’t Too Proud, The Life and Times of The Temptations. The epic, sometimes tragic rise of one of Motown’s greatest groups is the subject of Dominique Morisseau’s new, Broadway bound musical based on Otis Williams’ book. From the moment the actors portraying the famous quintet step out on stage in their classic suits and start their signature moves and harmonies, the audience is in and ready for the ride.
Derrick Baskin as Otis Williams serves as a steady, grounding force not only for the group as its founder but as narrator of the story which takes us from the streets of Detroit through their meteoric rise and up to the present day. The bulk of the action takes place in the 60’s and 70’s focusing on how they got together, the moments that took them to the top and the life that happens on the way. There is a lot to mine here and its great to see them getting the full musical treatment they deserve.
The songbook is nothing short of astounding and Morisseau does a brilliant job of weaving story through their greatest hits, often evoking audible sighs from the audience. This happens throughout the show, none more exquisitely than Rashidra Scott’s goosebump inducing If You Don’t Know Me By Now in a powerful performance as William’s wife, Josephine.
The entire cast is just an embarrassment of riches on every level, with each actor given gorgeous moments to shine. James Harkness brings a devastating vulnerability to Paul Williams, the peacemaker of the group, and simply breaks your heart when he sings, For Once In My Life. Jawan M. Jackson beautifully embodies the kindhearted, loyal Melvin Franklin and has the buttery, power-bass vocals to match. The velvet falsetto sound of Eddie Kendricks is played to perfection by the charismatic Jeremy Pope whose performance sizzles throughout. Ephraim Sykes gives a searing portrayal of the raw, soulful lead singer, David Ruffin, commanding center stage in a star-making turn. Anchoring the show of course is Baskin whose piercing voice gets a chance to slay in his big solo number that closes the show. Nasia Thomas, Taylor Symone Jackson and Candice Marie Woods play multiple roles including a fabulous turn as the one and only Supremes. I cannot say enough about the top-notch talent of the entire ensemble.
The tunes are infectious and the performances electrify, reminding us of just how much this music has made up the tapestry of our lives; their songs cover every human experience from one of their biggest hits, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, to Ball of Confusion, My Girl, I Wish It Would Rain, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, Just My Imagination and the list goes on and on. It’s an evening of pure nostalgic revelry to be sure but it is sobering to remember that there were costs in making all of this joy and director, Des McAnuff, knows how to slow the ferocious pace at just the right moments to bring these powerful scenes into focus.
The entire production team sets an exciting tone from the rotating Robert Brill set to the period perfect costumes by Paul Tazewell, the captivating Peter Nigrini projections and the modernized, funkalicious dance moves by Sergio Trujillo; all combine to make this an unforgettable night of theatre. It feels so much like a concert I found myself perplexed as to why they didn’t come back out for an encore! Catch it while you can before this juggernaut hits New York.
Ain’t Too Proud runs at The Ahmanson Theatre through September 30. Tickets are available by calling (213) 972-4400, online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, or by visiting the Center Theatre Group Box Office located at the Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets range from $30 – $145. The Ahmanson Theatre is located at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, 90012.