The music needs no introduction: all the hits that made The Temptations a household name are represented on this high-energy and enjoyable national tour of Ain’t too proud. But what this musical jukebox adds is the story behind the songs, told with deft, impressionistic touches that will resonate long after you’ve left the theater.
This fast-paced two-hour, thirty-minute show follows the band of superstars from the gritty streets of Detroit to the top of the charts, with all the highlights, challenges, and pathetic moments such stories inevitably provide. But the book by Dominique Morisseau manages to avoid the worst clichés of the genre by focusing on human moments. The amount of story Morrisseau is able to compress into a few spoken lines on a song is truly impressive.
With powerful vocals all around and Tony Award-winning choreography from Sergio Trujillo – combined with sleek direction from Des McAnuff – it’s a resounding and memorable evening of theatre.
Marcus Paul James anchors the show as Otis Williams, the band’s founding member. The show leans heavily on James, and he delivers a powerful, nuanced performance and exceptional voice. Harrell Holmes Jr. provides deep bass for Melvin Franklin. Jalen Harris adds Eddie Kendricks falsetto. James T. Lane brings dance moves and authentic hints of tragedy as Paul Williams. Elijah Ahmad Lewis rounds out the original lineup as David Ruffin, whose self-aggrandizing antics are the source of much of the conflict. All of the leads are a joy to watch and listen to, and the supporting cast is uniformly excellent, as you’d expect on a national tour.
And it’s hard to go wrong with this material. You’ll hear thirty songs from the legendary Motown catalog, including “My Girl”, “Just My Imagination”, “Get Ready” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”. The latter is used to great dramatic effect in the mouth of Otis Williams’ son, lamenting the years of connection lost while his father was on the road.
Set design by Robert Brill, projections by Peter Nigrini and lighting by Howell Binkley combine to create a mesmerizing image on stage. Whether suggesting a burial with a simple coffin-lowering device slid down a rail, or the intricate choreography of multiple 1970s television cameras traveling across the stage on tripods to capture a Bandstand performance American, the visuals are impeccable.
Is this a perfect show? No. You may find some frustration in the way many songs are cut short, a byproduct of trying to fit so many top-notch tracks into one evening. But if you’re a fan of The Temptations – or even if you only know their hits – you’ll find plenty to appreciate in both the music and the story of this incredible group of artists.
Ain’t too proud at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., April 12-17. Wednesday 13 April 7 p.m., Thu-Fri 7.30 p.m., Sat. 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sun. 1 p.m. & 6.30 p.m. Tickets from $20 to $94 available at the MF 10-5 box office, Saturday 10-2 and two hours before curtain, (401) 421-2787. Online at https://www.ppacri.org/events/detail/aint-too-proud-the-life-and-times-of-the-temptations
Photo by Emilio Madrid