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Review: AIN'T TOO PROUD at Shea's Buffalo Theatre

R & B Meets Broadway

Review: AIN'T TOO PROUD at Shea's Buffalo Theatre The evolution of the American musical has morphed from operetta to Vaudevillian musical revue to the classic integrated musical comedy. The advent of the jukebox musical began as MAMMA MIA and ALL SHOOK UP shoehorned popular music into a script to showcase Abba or Elvis Presley's music into paper-thin plots. Now, for better or worse, the bio-concert emerges, as the slick new touring production of AIN'T TOO PROUD : The Life and Times of THE TEMPTATIONS opened at Shea's Buffalo Theatre. The music of the Motown wonder group THE TEMPTATIONS is one of the latest properties to take to the Broadway stage. And since it's debut, other biographical musicals are being given similar treatment, telling the stories of Cher, Tina Turner and Michael Jackson.

The Temptations music may be a well known commodity, but not the details of their story of how a pickup group of young black singers settles in Detroit from southern US cities to form, almost too quickly, a new R&B sound. Through a happenstance meeting with Motown exec Berry Gordy, the group gets representation and is off touring and recording before you know it

While the group surely has it's ups and downs, the linear storytelling by the group's leader and narrator Otis, suffers from a " and then this happened " monotony. The large catalog of music is mostly used to showcase the group's sound. There are very few solo numbers, which denies the audience the ability to bond with the individual characters. But we do get to hear many of their hits including "My Girl," "Just My Imagination," and "I Can't Get Next to You."

The book by Dominique Morisseau can be clunky at times and is short on nuance, but does help anchor the story that unfolds during a time of racial injustice.

Marcus Paul Jones narrates as the leader of the group, Otis Williams. He anchors the action and helps the story along with it's emotional twists. James T. Lane is a small powerhouse as Paul Williams, who is overcome by alcoholism. In a rare solo in the second act, Lane tugs at the heartstrings as he sings "For Once In My Life." Harrell Holmes JR is the mama's boy with the big bass voice who stays with the group until the near bitter end.

Jalen Harris plays Eddie Kendricks, with a smooth voice that does best in his high falsetto range, but is often hard to hear at other times.

The story includes hints of other Motown characters like Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson, but the large ensemble is made up of many multi-talented men and few dynamic women. They all embody the singing and dancing style of the period and by the scintillating finale everyone gets a chance to shine and strut, including some of the onstage band.

The group has a series of lead singers that come and go, but Elijah Ahmad Lewis steals the spotlight as the charismatic David Ruffin

The usual snags of any music group emerge, including drugs, alcohol and relationship issues that plague performers while on the road. Part of the uniqueness of The Temptations story lies in it's revolving door of group members of the years, totally over 20.

Choreography by Sergio Trujillo is spot on and often exciting as the group of five develop their own style of synchronized dance. Some visits from Diana Ross and The Supremes make welcome additions in this mostly male cast.

Director Des McAnuff, who was responsible for brilliantly staged JERSEY BOYS, lends his keen eye to this production. But despite his earlier creativity, this production comes off a near copy of that earlier show's formula. He does best work varying the staging angles and allowing Trujlillo's dances to take center stage .

Scenic Design by Robert Brill provides a basic framework for Peter Nigrini's captivating projections that shift the action smoothly, especially as the group tours from theatre to theatre.

This production rates high on production values and as a concert, is thoroughly enjoyable. As a piece of theatre, some original music may have been a welcome addition to humanize these very talented men who made up The Temptations.

AIN'T TOO PROUD runs through May 15, 2022 at Shea's Buffalo Theatre. Contact sheas.org for more information



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From This Author - Michael Rabice