Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations tells of how the group was formed in Detroit in the early 1960s, their rise to fame, and the many challenges and line-up changes over years.
The book for the musical is by Dominique Morisseau, and is based on "Temptations," a biography by Otis Williams (with Patricia Romanowski), the founder and leader of the group. Sticking with the biography's tone, the character of Otis Williams narrates the musical. The storytelling is quick paced and clear, and the narration is used sparingly enough to be effective without feeling like a cop out. The show has the feel of Jersey Boys in form and substance. Sacrifices (limited family life, physical health), questionable choices (drugs and alcohol abuse), challenges (racism, selfish ambitions) are all touched upon enough that it doesn't feel like only the positive side of the story is told. There is apt humor and historical context as well.
The songs in Ain't Too Proud aren't just those by The Temptations, but many others from the Motown catalog are also included to assist in the storytelling. While many songs are presented as performance pieces, others are combined with dialogue to explain (or at least comment on) the story, and this integration of story and songs is effectively accomplished. Song highlights include "My Girl," "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "If You Don't Know Me by Now," "Shout," "War," "Get Ready," and Come See About Me."
Director Des McAnuff keeps the action moving briskly, providing pleasing stage tableaus and a solid balance of humor, drama, and performance numbers. The almost non-stop choreography by Sergio Trujillo highlights the many sharp, synchronized dance moves and poses that The Temptations and similar doo-wop/R&B groups from the period performed. Jonathan "Smitti" Smith leads a great-sounding orchestra consisting of touring and local musicians playing Harold Wheeler's excellent orchestrations.
The cast of the national tour is top-notch from top to bottom, with each performer displaying strong singing, dancing and acting. The amount of energy needed to execute the dancing and singing by those portraying The Temptations is remarkable. As the "Classic Five Temptations," Marcus Paul James (group leader and narrator Otis Williams), Elijah Ahmad Lewis (fiery front man David Ruffin), Jalen Harris (high-spirited crooner Eddie Kendricks), James T. Lane (dancing machine Paul Williams), and Harrell Holmes Jr. (bass vocalist Melvin Franklin) are all extremely praiseworthy. Also deserving of special mention are Brett Michael Lockley (Al Bryant), Harris Matthew (Dennis Edwards), and Shayla Brielle G. (various roles).
Robert Brill's scenic design is varied, and uses projections by Peter Nigrini along with a theatrical conveyer belt quite successfully. The handsome costumes by Paul Tazewell help show the passage of time through the 1960s, the 1970s, and beyond. Lighting by Howell Binkley includes both dramatic atmospheric elements and stage performance effects that are well suited and professionally rendered.
Ain't Too Proud is likely to join the crop of regularly touring shows thanks to its slick presentation of well-known songs with an interesting story, especially if subsequent tours can feature the same level of talented performers seen in this current cast. It's certainly one of the better jukebox musicals in recent years and brings a sense of nostalgia and delight to audience members.
Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations runs through March 27, 2022, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-621-2787 or visit cincinnati.broadway.com. For more information on the tour, visit https://ainttooproudmusical.com.