By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO
Next to “Hamilton,” “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations” is one of the hottest shows at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as tickets are going fast, but the musical hasn’t sold out.
After earning rave reviews and breaking records during its premiere run at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre last fall, “Ain’t Too Proud” opened June 19 at the Kennedy Center, where it remains through July 22.
“Ain’t Too Proud,” featuring a mostly African-American cast, hits Los Angeles and Toronto after D.C., before landing on Broadway, hopefully by spring 2019.
The musical chronicles the group’s humble Detroit beginnings as five country boys in the Motor City — where you either sang or joined a gang as the group’s last surviving member Otis Williams tells it — to national and international stars with 14 number one hits.
After Motown Records impresario Berry Gordy discovered the five fellas, they launched 42 hits, including “My Girl,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Cloud Nine”, “Just My Imagination” and the show’s namesake “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” — all of which the actors flawlessly execute.
If you’ve spent a long weekend watching “The Temptations” 1998 four-hour miniseries, you’ll see topics in the musical that the miniseries didn’t cover.
For example, Williams, played by Derrick Baskin in the musical, reveals he spent six months in juvenile detention for gang activity. After watching the Cadillacs perform at Detroit’s Fox Theater, Williams decided right then and there to pursue music instead of crime.
“Ain’t Too Proud” also points out that The Temptations originally recorded the anti-Vietnam War protest song “War,” but Motown refused to release it, out of fear The Temptations would lose white fans. The song instead went to Motown artist Edwin Starr, who rerecorded it and turned it into a number-one hit.
Prize-winning playwright and Detroit native Dominique Morisseau collaborated with Williams to create “Ain’t Too Proud.” And it was important to them to include storylines about the group’s songs, relationships and tenure at Motown that weren’t mentioned in the miniseries.
“We have a lot of new things that the story is talking about and we have a lot of new ways that the music is being used,” Morisseau told the AFRO. “That will distinguish it from any other medium. Otherwise there’s no reason to do it in the theater.”
Like the miniseries, the musical is told from Williams’ perspective. It also goes into how the bandmates suffered with the dark side of fame, battling drug and alcohol abuse, infidelity, health issues, fierce rivalries with one another and broken homes.
In one poignant scene, Williams’ son Lamont, played by Shawn Bowers, sings the chorus of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” to describe his strained relationship with his father. Williams is essentially absent from Lamont’s life because he’s always touring with The Temptations.
The dance moves and choreography were flawless and exciting and the singing was powerful — the audience saved its loudest cheers and applause for David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes), who frequently launched into splits.
The audience ate up the show, with many singing and clapping along with The Temptations to their greatest hits.
For those who wonder about the women who supported the chart-topping group, this musical is all about the guys — women have a limited role in this production.
“Ain’t Too Proud” is based on Williams’ book “The Temptations.” The production is directed by two-time Tony Award-winner Des McAnuff and choreographed by Olivier Award winner Sergio Trujillo.