Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of the Pre-Broadway Run of AIN'T TOO PROUD in Toronto?
The pre-Broadway run of "Ain't Too Proud-The Life and Times of The Temptations" officially opened in Toronto last night!
Before The Temptations became the greatest R&B group of all time (Billboard magazine 2017), they were just five young guys on the streets of Detroit. After getting discovered by Berry Gordy and signed to his brand-new label, Motown Records, it took them 24 tries before they finally had a hit song. The rest is history-how they met, how they rose, the groundbreaking heights they hit, and how personal and political conflicts threatened to tear the group apart as the United States fell into civil unrest. This thrilling story of brotherhood, family, loyalty and betrayal is set to the beat of the group's treasured hits, including "My Girl," "Just My Imagination," "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and so many more.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
S. Bear Bergman, Mooney on Theatre: Regrettably, on opening night, much of the first act was plagued by intermittent sound issues. For a musical about a close-harmony group that's mostly a trip-trop down musical memory lane, that was a considerable problem. In the second act, after it was fixed, we got to enjoy a more Temptations-like sound and it lifted my spirits considerably. The "plot" of this musical is more of less a narrated history of various members joining and leaving the group, with some Motown history thrown in (Smokey Robinson v. Norman Whitfield!) and a scant teaspoon on American Civil Rights Movement over top, so the songs are the draw.
Karen Fricker, Toronto Star: What holds this all together is the music itself: in Kenny Seymour's arrangements, the songs segue one to the next in thrilling - if sometimes relentless - waves of rhythm and tune. His 15-piece band sounds fantastic and, like the actors, does marathon work delivering the score pretty much non-stop through a two-and-a-half-hour show.
J. Kelly Nestruck, The Globe and Mail: While Trujillo's choreography is outstanding throughout - taking era-authentic choreography as inspiration and then super-charging it - it is moving in dealing with the relationship between father and son. [...] Artful moments such as that are too infrequent in Ain't Too Proud - but, in the end, there is something truly tragic in the story of Otis's survival. Keeping the brand together - rather, the band together - he ends up alone.
Taylor Long, BroadwayWorld: Although AIN'T TOO PROUD doesn't reach the dramatic heights of similar shows like Jersey Boys, or Beautiful: The Carole King Story - its worth comes in the form of successfully sharing the story of one of history's greatest all African-American bands. The plot could be improved by expanding one of the numerous storylines, but as it stands, AIN'T TOO PROUD is an emotional ride featuring an unbeatable soundtrack. See it before it hits the Great White Way next spring.
Los Angeles Reviews:
Peter Debruge, Variety: In any case, compared to "Dreamgirls," this show feels like a glorified PowerPoint presentation, using high-power projectors to beam the names of tour stops and black-and-white photos and footage (such as headlines announcing Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, or B-roll of Vietnam) onto the relatively simple set. A rotating disc and horizontal treadmill allow for some creative staging, but it would've taken a more creative script to match the energy of the music itself. If anything, the unexpected takeaway of "Ain't Too Proud" - which reveals that the songwriting was often more important than the singers - is that so many of the Temptations' hits could have been performed by any well-cast vocal group, and that they could have made many other Motown songs sound twice as sweet.
Charles McNulty, The Los Angeles Times: What the performers do manage to replicate to perfection is the energy of the music - the attack, the smoothness, the masculine cool. (Sykes in this regard is truly irreplaceable.) "Ain't Too Proud" concentrates the theatrical experience of seeing the Temptations in concert. When the men are snapping, swaying and slicing the air with their limbs, there is no defense. Sergio Trujillo's choreography translates the yearning and drive of band members into pure dynamism.
Deborah Wilker, The Hollywood Reporter: With so much drama, the big cast has plenty of juicy material and there isn't a weak link among these players. Ephraim Sykes, a former Alvin Ailey dancer, as the tormented Ruffin, and Jeremy Pope as angelic-voiced Kendricks are standouts. Jawan M. Jackson as sweet-natured baritone Franklin and James Harkness as Paul Williams are spot-on as well. Jahi Kearse as Gordy, Saint Aubyn as Edwards, Joshua Morgan as Berger and Shawn Bowers as Otis Williams' son Lamont also are all first-rate.
Don Grigware, BroadwayWorld: The main weakness of the show is its book by Dominique Morisseau, who inserts plot elements as brief scenarios that are reduced to mere snippets because of the dominance of the music. I would have liked to see a longer scene between Otis and his grown up son Lamont or more between Otis and Josephine who felt the deep strain of being a single mom while Otis was on the road. Nevertheless, the songs and dancing win out, and for that audiences will exult.
Erin Conley, On Stage And Screen: Many of the most interesting challenges the group faced feel glossed over in the context of the musical. For example, it took 24 tries for them to have a hit song, but when the show is structured to showcase the impressive, well-known discography of hits evenly dispersed throughout the two hours and thirty minutes, this fact is lost in the shuffle. The sheer number of Temptations-there have been 24 in all-introduced in the show makes it difficult to truly get to know any of them besides Otis, and even the other four who represent the group during its "foundation" period often feel reduced to caricatures. Perhaps the musical would benefit from focusing more on a shorter period of time rather than spanning several decades-the show could also stand to lose at least ten minutes, preferably in book scenes rather than in musical numbers. At one point later in the show, the group reacts to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil unrest in their hometown of Detroit, but it feels like a forced historical benchmark rather than a meaningful connection that helps drive the story and character development.