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Review Roundup: AIN'T TOO PROUD - The Temptations Musical - at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Review Roundup: AIN'T TOO PROUD - The Temptations Musical - at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

A new musical, AIN'T TOO PROUD-THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS chronicles the journey of five young men on the streets of Detroit who became music legends. They were discovered by Berry Gordy, who signed them to his label, and produced their first hit-and the rest is music history. From when they first met, to how they rose to fame, to how they almost fell apart amidst the civil unrest of the country around them, AIN'T TOO PROUD brings new light to the formation of one of R&B music's most legendary groups.

The show has a book by Dominique Morisseau, music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog, music by arrangement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, orchestrations by Harold Wheeler, music direction and arrangement by Kenny Seymour, choreography by Sergio Trujillo, and direction by Des McAnuff.

The cast features Derrick Baskin as Otis Williams, Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin, James Harkness as Paul Williams, Jared Joseph as Melvin Franklin, and Jeremy Pope as Eddie Kendricks. The cast also features Esther Antoine, Shawn Bowers, Jeremy Cohen, E. Clayton Cornelious, Rodney Earl Jackson jr., Taylor Symone Jackson, Jahi Kearse, Jarvis B. Manning, Devin L. Roberts, Rashidra Scott, Caliaf St. Aubyn, Nasia Thomas, Christian Thompson, and Candice Marie Woods.

The world premiere of AIN'T TOO PROUD will play through October 22 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.Let's see what the critics had to say!

Karen D'Souza, The Mercury News: Directed by a master of the genre, Des McAnuff, of "Jersey Boys" and "Tommy" fame, this ambitious Motown biography throbs with grit and groove... If the audacious show sometimes overreaches its grasp at this point, the sheer pleasure and utter precision in the musical interludes buoys the rest of the production. At its finest moments, the songs and the subtext find a harmony... Sergio Trujillo's thrumming choreography nails the sense of freedom and rebellion that emanates from those groovy moves. Racists may shoot at their tour bus when they dare to play in the South, but on stage no one can touch them. McAnuff sucks us in from the first doo-wop notes to the last flashy spins.

Lily Janiak, SFGate: It might sound like an understatement or faint praise to say that "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations" is worthy of the band of its title. But there's no such thing as being merely worthy of the Motown quintet that bequeathed the world "My Girl," "Get Ready," "I Wish It Would Rain" and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone." To be worthy of that is to transcend... Richly textured, perfectly blended harmonies back lead vocals that somehow combine swaggering showmanship, meticulously honed technique and emotion of almost unbearable intensity. Channeling Eddie Kendricks, actor Jeremy Pope has an otherwordly, buttery falsetto that warbles among notes as if they were playthings. When David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes) takes the lead on the show's title track, abasing himself before his love for an imagined woman, he howls as if to implore the grim reaper for a few minutes more to live.

Chad Jones, In the end, though, it's the extraordinary cast that makes Ain't Too Proud such a rich and rewarding pleasure. They sing, they dance, they add nuance to a fast-moving story that doesn't have time for a lot of character detail. The way they do the things they do makes us care about the success of the band and its part in Gordy's goal of using Motown to break down racial barriers coast to coast (and making him gobs of money while he's at it). The voices are simply glorious - especially Sykes' Ruffin and Pope's Kendricks - and the blend of the boys in the band feels true to the original Temptations sound while making feel alive and not overly polished.

Lily Janiak, SF Chronicle: Characters are more flash points than three-dimensional figures, and that's whether they're among the more "temporary" of the Temptations (the group cycled through 24 members over the years) or Otis, who takes the show through an arc familiar to anyone who's seen a VH1 "Behind the Music" special or two: meteoric rise, dissension among the ranks, health problems and worse that accompany life in the fast lane, reconciliation and redemption. Baskin acquits himself as well as he can, but he can't overcome hoary lines like "through all the bumps on the journey," nor can he make his supposed care for his family take on the narrative heft the show intends when it gets only a few instants of stage time.

Photo: Kevin Berne/ Berkeley Rep Theatre

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