REVIEW: ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ is Refreshing, Non-Stop Entertainment

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Photo by Matthew Murphy

After seeing several local versions of jukebox musicals this summer in which the music outscored the story (Mamma Mia!, Head Over Heels, and We Will Rock You) Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations is a refreshing biographical musical sensation.

Nominated for 12 Tonys including Best Musical and winning the prize for Sergio Trujillo’s fluid choreography, “Ain’t Too Proud” follows The Jersey Boys successful template on how to present the life and times of the greatest male vocal group of the 1960s and 1970s, paving the way for groups like NSYNC, Boys II Men, New Direction, the Backstreet Boys and more.

Narrated by the founder of The Temptations, Otis Williams (a fantastic Michael Paul James), the story hews closely to his autobiography, beginning with his humble beginnings as a child from the South and his family’s migration to Detroit in the 1950s.

The book follows his juvenile delinquency and several incarnations of the vocalist group (starting as Otis Williams & the Siberians, and later, he Elgins), early manager Johnnie Mae Matthews (Traci Elaine Lee in an expensive Cadillac convertible that is only seen once in the show), following Berry Gordy (Michael Andreaus) of Motown into a men’s urinal, and the hiring and firing of new members until they reach the Classic Five – Williams, Melvin Franklin (Harrell Holmes Jr.), Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris), David Ruffin (Elijah Ahmad Lewis) and Paul Williams (James T. Lane).

We get cameos by Smokey Robinson (a remarkable facsimile in looks and voice in Lawrence Dandridge) and an extended cameo from The Supremes (Amber Mariah Talley, Shayla Brielle G., and Traci Elaine Lee), and the rise of The Temptations, love interests and family life, drug addiction, domestic abuse, disputes, and re-invention of the group during the Vietnam Was and into the soul funk era.

And, oh the music with so many incredible songs, over 30 including classics like “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Get Ready,” and many, many, many more that just fly by with such ease, skill, and aptness to the material and plot developments.

Williams is the last surviving original Temptation (there have been 24 members of the group to date since it was founded in 1963).

The book by Dominique Morisseau is thrifty and witty, and earnestly tells the story of the greatest R&B group of all time, hitting the highs and lows with equal aplomb.

Des McAnuff directs this showcase with Kenny Seymour’s music direction and arrangements. This show looks incredibly expensive with its state of the art video design by Peter Nigrini of endless theatre marquees and locations as The Temptations travel the world, the expediency of set pieces on tracks swiftly moving about (set design by Robert Brill), snazzy costumes by Paul Tazewell, and fascinating lighting design by Howell Binkley.

Ain’t Too Proud is the best overall and most satisfying production (okay, not counting Hamilton) in this year’s Broadway subscription series thus far!

Check it out. Shows continue through Sunday at the Peace Center in Greenville. Tickets are available at peacecenter.org.

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