The music lives forever in ‘Ain’t Too Proud:  The Life and Times of the Temptations’ at The Imperial Theatre

The most successful singing group in the history of R&B proudly lives on in the Tony-award winning jukebox musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. Now onstage at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre, the show is a smash hit with unforgettable music and lyrics from the Legendary Motown Catalog and based on Otis Williams’ book, “The Temptations.” Written by Dominique Morisseau, Ain’t Too Proud takes their meteoric life story from the page to the stage under the fine direction of Des McAnuff.

(L-R) Derrick Baskin, Jelani Remy, Jawan M. Jackson, Ephraim Sykes, and James Harkness in ‘Ain’t Too Proud.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Ain’t Too Proud feels part fantastic Broadway show and part homage to The Temptations who produced so much great music. The Temps’ romantic lyrics never leave you – they are floating around somewhere in your head, and you only need to hear a few bars from one of your favorites for the music of The Temptations to come alive again. Ain’t Too Proud won’t let you go either, and the show gets better and better with every great dance performance and each hit song.  

The original “Classic Five” version of The Temptations, i.e., the Otis Williams-Melvin Franklin-Paul Williams-Eddie Kendricks-David Ruffin era is legendary. If you are from a certain generation, you’ll remember exactly where you were and who you were with when  you hear songs like “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” “Since I Lost My Baby,” and “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” And it’s great to hear all those oldies but goodies even if you aren’t from that generation.

The show balances a dramatic true life story that respects both the good times and the hard times with pacing that slows things down when the group hits rock bottom and picks it up again with explosive energy, great music, electrifying choreography, and the harmony of soaring vocals performed by an ensemble of super-talented showmen. 

The Temps’ cool visual style, smooth vocals and sharp choreography are unparalleled trademarks of its musical greatness. Sergio Trujillo won the Tony for Best Choreography in 2019, and the group’s perfectly synchronized dance moves could stop on a dime. Who remembers The Temptations Strut? The dazzling dancing alone is worth the price of admission.

But adding a songbook of 31 chart-topping hits is a dream comes true for music lovers young and old. The score evolves from the ballads of the Motown Sound of the early 60s through their psychedelic soul period up to funk, disco, and adult contemporary R&B of the 70s with orchestrations by Harold Wheeler.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, The Temptations lasted for decades because they changed their music with the changing times with an eye for crossover appeal under the watchful guidance of Berry Gordy and songwriters Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield. Gordy, Robinson, and Whitfield are respectively played in Ain’t Too Proud by Jahi Kearse, Christian Thompson, and Jarvis B. Manning, Jr.

Ephraim Sykes, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, and James Harkness in ‘Ain’t Too Proud.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Meticulous dressers to the hilt, Paul Tazewell’s cool costume design re-creates the sharkskin-suited, sharp dressing that became part of The Temptations’ signature style. Scenic Design by Robert Brill lights up a marquis adding theatrical stage door glitz.

The show is true to form and presents a story that many already know about five poor black guys, originally from the South, migrating to the motor city of Detroit to Motown’s Hitsville USA under music mogul Berry Gordy. Fate and fame changed everything, however, as Otis Williams’ unrelenting vision to start a singing group manifests into a troupe of talented performers who would rise to international stardom.

But fame came at a price, and it seems The Temptations experienced as many ups as downs with ongoing conflicts and tragedies. They were not to be defeated, however, no matter the difficulties and Ain’t Too Proud is ultimately a story of triumph and the astounding payoff when focus meets opportunity.

Derrick Baskin narrates the story as Otis Williams, the group’s founder, and gives a performance that won him a Tony nomination. Ephraim Sykes also nabbed a nomination for his portrayal as bad-boy lead singer, David Ruffin. James Harkins as Paul Williams was a showstopper on “For Once in My Life.” Eddie Kendricks’ sweet falsetto was crooned to perfection by Jelani Remy on songs such as “You’re My Everything.” And Jawan Jackson’s deep bass voice as Melvin Franklin proved a soothing undertone to The Temptations’ unique sound throughout the production. These guys are too fine.

Twenty other talented troupers provide supporting roles including the sexy Supremes portrayed in all their sequined glamour by Candice Marie Woods as Diana Ross, and Taylor Symone Jackson and Nasia Thomas as the Supremes. Rashidra Scott has a show-stopping moment as Josephine, Otis Williams’ wife.

In all honesty, I wondered just what more could be enjoyed by putting a Temptations biopic onstage. I grew up on The Temptations and loved all their music, knew their life story, and had seen their TV mini-series and movie. But Ain’t Too Proud proved me wrong. Dead wrong. What a blast from the past. 

Ain’t Too Proud:  The Life and Times of The Temptations is an absolute winner you’ll want to see more than once.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with an intermission.

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptationsplays an open-ended run at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street, NYC. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200, or go online.


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