Ain’t Too Proud... is a jukebox musical in the vein of Jersey Boys which played The Orpheum earlier in the season. Both follow the formation and rise of a famous 1960’s, well let’s call em what they would be considered today, boy bands. That these are two of the greatest boy bands in history means that the shows will be filled with great music, but the similarities don’t end there. For each follows the age old trajectory of success leading to excess. They both even contain the tragic death of one of the members children. You also get the sense that both of these groups should have had a lot more money then they did. I suspect the reason the record companies are not raked over the coals in these shows is that they have to grant use of the music. The Temptations musical has so many songs to feature that it’s weakness is that it doesn’t have time to perform many of these classics in full. In fact, I’m not entirely sure there is ever one song that is actually performed start to finish. So less of a rock concert than a two hour medley of hits. The performance of the songs, and the songs themselves, are so good that we forgive their abbreviation.
The book for this musical does what it needs to in order to tell it’s story but if the show lacks something it’s a better understanding of where we are chronologically and how they actually got their start. We move very quickly from Otis Williams, the sole surviving member of the original Temptations and the narrator of the show, release from Juvenile Detention, to his putting together a band. He lures new members by pointing out they already have a manager and paying gigs. But how did that happen? Once the group gets connected to legendary Motown Record label founder Berry Gordy, it stops feeling like things are being omitted as much. Like the Four Season, I know the music of The Temptations but next to nothing about their personal story and lives. It makes for an interesting history lesson and also a cautionary tale. It’s amazing how familiar the broad strokes are of these tales of celebrity, the egos, the drugs, the infighting. One wonders if anyone is capable of navigating fame without self destructing. Of course there are, and Otis Williams is one of them, assuming he’s a reliable narrator, remember history is written by the victors or in this case, the survivor.
A show like this, just as with Jersey Boys, has to cast with exceptionally talented performers. They have to be able to sing in a reasonable facsimile of some very iconic and impressive voices. The cast here is all supremely gifted vocally and their dancing choreographed by Sergio Trujillo is perfectly timed and executed. Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks was the most impressive vocally of the Temps, one can see his casting as Michael Jackson when MJ the Musical gets ready to tour. The one character whose voice is supposed to be so good, that there are worries about replacing him when his behavior becomes to erratic is David Ruffin. At the performance I attended, he was good, but nowhere near the best voice on the stage, this may be because it was the understudy Harris Matthew in the role that night. What’s exciting is that the performers who briefly appear and sing as some other motown groups like The Cadillacs, The Supremes, and The Five Satins are just as great vocally as the Temptations. The one performer that really embodies the show with its heart and soul is Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams. Of course he’s a great singer, but it’s his acting that really draws us to him. He isn’t volatile, he’s deliberate and reasonable, like his character he’s the backbone of the ensemble. He’s trying to do the right things and move everyone forward, he’s the survivor and we can see the toll that surviving takes on him. He reminded me of a young Denzel Washington, there is a power to him that somehow comes across without being showy in the least.
If you are a fan of the music of The Temptations, Ain’t Too Proud… is going to be well worth your time. The showmanship on display is very impressive, each performance has its own unique choreography and the vocal performances of so many great songs is almost an embarrassment of riches. I had a blast with the production numbers and was captivated my the lead performance by Marcus Paul James. Ain’t Too Proud… runs through July 10th at the Hennepin Theatre Trust Orpheum Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/events/aint-too-proud-broadway-tickets-minneapolis-mn-2022/
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