Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Prior to its Broadway opening in 2019, Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations made its debut at Washington's Kennedy Center, in the Eisenhower Theater. Following a COVID-related hiatus, the touring production has returned to the center's larger theater, the Opera House, and it's as entertaining and dazzling as ever.
The work of director Des McAnuff and choreographer Sergio Trujillo (both nominated for Tony Awards, with Trujillo winning one) holds up beautifully, from the impressively talented cast to the sharp orchestra and the high sheen of the physical production.
The story of the Temptations, the Motown quintet still performing after five decades, is told from the viewpoint of the one original member still in the group: Otis Williams (Marcus Paul James), whose book was adapted for the stage by Dominique Morisseau. He covers the early days, including his decision to focus on music after a six-month stay in juvenile detention; finding the other four young men who would form the group, depicted through cinematic shifts of scene and perspective; winning over Berry Gordy (Michael Andreaus) to become part of the Motown scene; and the highs and lows of touring relentlessly while trying to maintain personal lives.
All five of the original Temptations command the stage when they perform, but each in his distinctive way: Otis Williams' sense of control; the unleashed physicality of David Ruffin (Elijah Ahmad Lewis); the elegance of Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris); the smooth bass voice of Melvin Franklin (Harrell Holmes Jr.); and the sweetness of Paul Williams, no relation to Otis (James T. Lane).
The Temptations perform through the stressful 1960sthe Civil Rights movement, the Detroit riots, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the deepening U.S. involvement in Vietnambut Gordy wanted them to maintain their crossover appeal and limit their response to the upheaval. At the same time, the five men deal with alcoholism and cocaine addiction, difficult romances and marriages, arguments over their roles in the group, ultimately firings and health concerns, while keeping their public façade perfect in a succession of sharply tailored matching suits designed by Paul Tazewell and Trujillo's precision dance routines.
Robert Brill's scenic design uses simple set pieces to create a kaleidoscopic series of locations, and lighting designer Howell Bingley and projection designer Peter Nigrini anchor the settings with an illuminated theater marquee and projections that announce the cities where the Temptations are performing, as well as scenes of life outside the stage door.
Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations runs through January 16, 2022 (sadly, also the closing date of the Broadway production), at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Opera House, 2700 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org. For more information on the tour, visit ainttooproudmusical.com.
Book by Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Des McAnuff