Broadway Review: Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations

Ephraim Sykes-Jeremy Pope-Jawan M.Jackson-James Harkness-Derrick Baskin

 

 

By Sandi Durell

 

Back to Detroit where R & B and Motown all began . . . it’s, as they say, the soundtrack of many lives, surely mine. Yes, I was among the thousands who moved and grooved to the beat of the guy and gal groups who made music and harmonies on the street corners before they became stars. The music and many of the groups made history. But the one that landed on the top via its originator Otis Williams, from Texarkana, Tx (played here by a knowing, smart, charming and sympathetic Derrick Baskin), was The Temptations. Otis is the only one of the originals still alive today and this is based on his memoir ‘The Temptations.’

 

Front: Derrick Baskin

 

This jukebox musical, written by the terrific Dominique Morisseau who knows how to blend a story and a song, and is also from Detroit, is filled with the tunes we still sing, the ones that can make your heart go pitter-patter i.e. “My Girl,” “Baby Love,” “Get Ready,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”– a total of 31 songs in full or part – (I can hear you humming along now!), provides the meat of what makes the five fabulous performers (and would you believe that from 1963 till today, there were 24 different Temptations?) in this production powerful interpreters. It wasn’t an easy road, but through Otis’ vision, he eventually found Berry Gordy (Jahl Kearse) head of Motown Records – – -accosting him of all places in the men’s room (one of the funny moments).

From a kid in reform school headed for disaster, Otis pulled himself up by his bootstraps when he realized music was in his soul. He found the other four guys to fill the vocal parts as he narrates the life and times of the Temps, the highs and lows, the good times and bad, the drugs, the women, the turmoil along with egos and heartbreak of being on the road with a family back home. They toured constantly.

 

 

But when he chose the four voices to join his dream, he knew what he was doing going after Melvin Franklin (a basso profundo of many amazing notes, Jawan M. Jackson); Eddie Kendricks (the gorgeous-voiced falsetto tenor you can’t forget in Choir Boy – Jeremy Pope),  Paul Williams (a soft and sweet James Harkness) and Al Bryant (Jarvis B. Manning Jr.) whom he fires early on as lead singer, replacing him with uber talented David Ruffin (a bundle of energetic song and dance man Ephraim Sykes). Otis was always a fair man and made sure it was the group first rather than the individual.

We get to revisit other stars of the day including Smokey Robinson (Christian Thompson), Tammi Terrell (Nasia Thomas) who died at the very young age of 24 from cancer, and the fabulous Supremes (Candice Marie Woods as Diana Ross; Taylor Symone Jackson as Florence Ballard and Rashidra Scott as Mary Wilson – {also as Josephine, Otis’ wife}) in sparkly sequin gowns, as they vied for and achieved greatness together.

 

 

Des McAnuff is well versed as a director of Motown musicals as evidenced by Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and moves the 20 – member ensemble with great aplomb on Robert Brill’s easy to use set of turntables and moving walks. The backdrop comes alive with Peter Nigrini’s projections aided by Howell Binkley’s hot flashing lights. Paul Tazewell dresses the cast in just the right suits, gowns and costumes of the era while Charles G. LaPointe fills it all in with the many required wigs. But it’s Sergio Trujillo whose vision brings it alive as the Temps turn, slide, move and groove and snap their fingers in rhythmic perfection in a way that still resounds and gives pause to why The Temptations remain part of our musical soundtrack.

It’s a hi-powered, dynamic and energetic cast that will make you love them while you, the audience, can’t help but mouth or sing the familiar tunes that just keep comin’.

 

Photos: Matthew Murphy

 

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations at Imperial Theater, 252 West 45 Street, NYC runs 2 hours, 30 minutes with one 20 minute intermission

 

 

 

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