Feel-good Temptations musical ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ returns to KenCen

Every role requires high-caliber singing, acting, and dancing, and the cast knocks it out of the park.

Get ready, ’cause here they come — The Temptations are back! Although the Kennedy Center engagement of this Tony Award–winning jukebox musical was postponed two weeks due to breakthrough COVID cases in the fully vaccinated national tour company, Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations is well worth the wait. Audiences may remember the pre-Broadway stint at Kennedy Center in 2018 (see Lisa Traiger’s DCMTA review). The show has since made adjustments for the better. 

National touring company of ‘Ain’t Too Proud.’ Photo © 2021 Emilio Madrid.

The book by Dominique Morisseau blends the source material from Otis Williams’ autobiography Temptations with the expansive Motown catalog. The musical arrangements of Kenny Seymour hit every anticipated note while expanding our view to let us see the bigger picture surrounding our favorite songs. “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl,” “Since I Lost My Baby,” “I’m Going to Make You Love Me,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “For Once in My Life,” and “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” are standouts in transporting the audience to the story and times of The Temptations. 

Marcus Paul James, Jalen Harris, Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Harrell Holmes Jr., James T. Lane in the national touring company of ‘Ain’t Too Proud.’ Photo © 2021 Emilio Madrid.

The impactful LED projections from Peter Nigrini and the lighting design of Howell Binkley help transport us through the group’s tumultuous history. The projections and lighting design during “I Wish It Would Rain” were moving and poignant without distracting from the emotional performances. 

Ain’t Too Proud is a very demanding show — every role in the show requires a high caliber of singing, acting, and dancing. The cast rises to the occasion and knocks it out of the park. The members of The Temptations balance exquisite vocal blending while simultaneously hitting every step of its Tony Award–winning choreography from Sergio Trujillo. Trujillo is known for infusing fresh energy into the quintessential choreography of popular artists. His previous choreography includes On Your Feet, Jersey Boys, Summer, and All Shook Up — all with their own distinct style. 

The cast is composed of Broadway stars, solo recording artists, American Idol alums, and a bevy of triple threats. It’s difficult to note a standout performer as each member of The Temptations holds their own while seamlessly blending with the group. Not to be outshined, The Supremes enter the story played by Deri’Andra Tucker as Diana Ross, Shayla Brielle G. as Florence Ballard, and Traci Elaine Lee as Mary Wilson. Although their stage time is limited, this trio exemplifies the star power that made them Motown’s top group of that time. 

Marcus Paul James’ smooth baritone and engaging storytelling is the backbone of the show as Otis Williams. He rarely left the stage as he navigated through his story, never missing a beat between songs and vignettes of his past. His smooth and grounded demeanor is the perfect counter to the over-the-top showmanship of David Ruffin, played by Elijah Ahmad Lewis. Ruffin has the largest character arc of the show and Lewis handles it with care and panache. Watching his younger years of uncertainty, finding his footing under the wing of Williams, and then his meteoric rise makes his downfall all the more heartbreaking. 

Jalen Harris as the crooner Eddie Kendricks was like honey — smooth and sweet. I couldn’t help but feel every lyric that he sang, especially in Act 2. James T. Lane as choreographer Paul Williams was a joy to hear and watch — he exuded light with every ounce of his body. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I will only say that Lane’s performance in Act 2 was incredibly moving — I will never hear “For Once in My Life” the same way again. 

Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Marcus Paul James, Jalen Harris, Harrell Holmes Jr., James T. Lane in the national touring company of ‘Ain’t Too Proud.’ Photo © 2021 Emilio Madrid.

My favorite vocal of the show was Harrell Holmes Jr. as the bass Melvin Franklin. His rich timbre was featured more in the show’s arrangements than in The Temptations’ original recordings — and the show is made all the better for it. His vocals anchor the harmonies and make audiences fall more in love with Melvin, helping us better understand how deep a brotherhood he shared with Otis Williams. Although I wish there was a song that featured him as a lead vocal, his talent was showcased beautifully within the collective of The Temptations. 

The performance I saw did not happen to have any understudies or swings, but they deserve to be noted for the work they are doing on tour. These talented performers — Brian C. Binion, Nick Drake, Treston J. Henderson, Antwaun Holley, Chani Maisonet, and Andrew Volzer — are literally waiting in the wings and ready at a moment’s notice to play any one of the multiple roles they’re covering.

Ain’t Too Proud is a nostalgic, feel-good piece of ensemble theater that gives dozens of voices the opportunity to shine. 

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

Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations plays through January 16, 2022, at The Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC. To purchase tickets ($45 – $185), call (202) 467-4600 or go online.

COVID Safety: The Kennedy Center requires proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 to attend all indoor performances and events. Kennedy Center’s full COVID Safety Plan is here.

The Ain’t Too Proud digital program can be viewed here.

The cast of Ain’t Too Proud performed in tribute to Berry Gordy at the Kennedy Center Honors on December 23, 2021.

The Temptations: Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, Harrell Holmes Jr. as Melvin Franklin, James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams, and Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin
The touring company also features Michael Andreaus, Gregory Carl Banks Jr, Brian C. Binion, Reed Campbell, Lawrence Dandridge, Nick Drake, Shayla Brielle G., Treston J. Henderson, Najah Hetsberger, Devin Holloway, Antwaun Holley, Traci Elaine Lee, Brett Michael Lockley, Chani Maisonet, Harris Matthew, Deri’Andra Tucker, and Andrew Volzer.

Creative Team
Book by Dominique Morisseau | Music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog | Music by arrangement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing | Orchestrations by Harold Wheeler | Music direction & arrangements by Kenny Seymour | Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo | Scenic design by Robert Brill | Costume design by Paul Tazewell | Lighting design by Howell Binkley | Sound design by Steve Canyon Kennedy | Projection design by Peter Nigrini | Hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe | Fight direction by Steve Rankin | Directed by Des McAnuff

The Broadway production of Ain’t Too Proud will end its run on January 16, 2022, because of breakthrough COVID cases, but the national tour company is scheduled to continue.


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