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Review: Broadway's AIN'T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS Brings Motown to Music Hall

Review: Broadway's AIN'T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS Brings Motown to Music Hall

Music Hall at Fair Park becomes FOX Theatre for Broadway’s AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS. September 6-18.

There is a long list of artists that make people say, "oh my gosh, I can't believe you got to see them!" I like to think I have seen a few of those artists and that I will continue to do so in years to come. What I never expected was an opportunity to hear the live version of music that was heard throughout the world, our country, and in my grandparents' living room. Origin story, history lesson, live concert-this is AIN'T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS.

There was a massive crowd for the second evening of performances, everyone buzzing and ready to bop to the hits of The Temptations. Waiting for the show to begin, I couldn't help but study the virtual setting displayed on stage. Rather than the beautiful stage of Music Hall at Fair Park, we saw the exterior doors of Fox Theatre with THE TEMPTATIONS: ONE NIGHT ONLY in massive letters. (Thankfully for Dallas, they will be playing through September 18th!) These projections immediately transported us back to when the story of The Temptations begins and added to our excitement, making us feel as if we were waiting in the audience for the real thing.

The virtual visuals were crucial to the entire performance. They were used to move the audience through time and space, seamlessly transitioning The Temptations through significant moments in their careers and lives. Peter Nigrini's intentional use of images greatly contributed to the audience's understanding of the setting and mood of the performance. Robert Brill's scenic designs aided these transitions, giving physicality to the time travel happening on stage in front of us. These visual elements combined with Howell Binkley's lighting design was imperative to each and every scene, allowing us to release ourselves into the talent-driven, sometimes tumultuous journey of The Temptations.

Also contributing to the audience's understanding of time and phases of the group's life were the choices of costumes, hair and wigs, and makeup, designed by Paul Tazewell and Charles G. LaPointe. Specific trends and styles were represented as time passed, but the most notable fashion in the performance were the suits. There were different colored suits for various individuals and occasions-white, black, red, maroon, and silver, which was my personal favorite. The color schemes of the suits matched the moods of the scenes-one example being white and gold suits for two solo stars-which contributed to the overall understanding of the characters themselves. I was also quite impressed by the quick, intentional changes of costume, whether that be the removal of a jacket or an actor quickly changing costumes to embody a new person.

Many actors played more than one role, appearing in different costumes throughout the performance. Shayla Brielle G. first appeared as Melvin Franklin's supportive and stern mother, Mama Rose, and later showcased her gorgeous voice and poise as Florence Ballard and Tammi Terrell, two talented and influential women in music. A standout performance was given by Brett Michael Lockley as Al Bryant, his energetic dance moves making the crowd smile and laugh. Lockley later appeared as Norman Whitfield, a producing icon that led to the hit, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." Traci Elaine Lee's performance as motivated manager, Johnnie Mae, was high-energy and hilarious, and her portrayal of The Supremes' Mary Wilson was poised. Another crowd-pleasing performance came from Lawrence Dandridge, most notably as Smokey Robinson and later as Damon Harris. Of course Dandridge's voice was spectacular as Damon Harris, but his portrayal of Smokey Robinson's light, raspy voice captured cheers and chuckles from the audience. Dennis Edwards, played by Treston J. Henderson, and Richard Street, played by Devin Holloway, were members of The Temptations in the later years. With their main roles being as Temps, they also contributed to other action in the show-Henderson as Straight Talk Fella and Holloway as "Gloria" Soloist, Interviewer, and Delivery Man.

Although there have been many members of The Temptations throughout the decades, the story begins with the foundation of the group-Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams, Paul Williams, and David Ruffin. Jalen Harris's sharp eyes added a strength to his performance as Eddie Kendricks, especially during his performance of "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)." Harrell Holmes Jr. possesses the perfect contrasting bass voice, casting him as the mighty and musical Melvin Franklin. Our narrator and Original Temp, Otis Williams, was portrayed by an undetected understudy, Michael Andreaus, whose performance evoked laughter, tears, and song. His enactment as Otis Williams was exceptionally compelling, bringing the audience to their feet as he later concluded the epic origin story of The Temptations. James T. Lane successfully stayed off of our radar, portraying Paul Williams's crucial contribution to the group yet his quiet submission to addiction and despair. Lastly, but most publicly, was the unpredictability of David Ruffin, played by Elijah Ahmad Lewis, who brilliantly embodied the complexity of Ruffin's unpredictable moods and motivation to remain relevant. Together these five actors gave insight into the five men who were The Temptations, the five men who started a musical movement and changed the world for the better.

Among the original members of The Temptations were other notable figures and the actors playing them. Playing Josephine, the strong wife of Otis Williams and devoted mother of their child, was Najah Hetsberger. At first this character seemed spacey, but when faced with the difficult realities of raising a child while The Temptations were on the road, Hetsberger showed the audience what a strong, protective, and independent mother looks like. Playing the coveted role of Diana Ross was Amber Mariah Talley, showcasing her talented voice and stage presence that was able to capture the attention of an entire room. Antwaun Holley's performance as founder of Motown, Berry Gordy, was inspiring. The many conversations that happened in the Motown recording studio led to the success of The Temptations, and Holley gave a solid performance allowing us to believe we were witnessing these conversations, one of which being the introduction of a white manager, Shelly Berger. Reed Campbell portrayed the manager, clearly conveying the initial disconnect from the life experiences of the members of The Temptations, although promising them success if they lay their trust in a man they just met. I appreciated the time spent on the introduction between Shelly Berger and the band, and Campbell did well communicating the strange paradox of Berger feeling uncomfortable yet untouchable when in a room with young Black men. Although the son of Otis Williams and Josephine, Lamont, was not on stage for long, Gregory C. Banks Jr. left an imprint on the hearts of the audience. His youthfulness added a tenderness to his words and his voice, especially when he softly sang a few significant lines of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone."

The personalities of all characters shone through their styles in voice and dance. The ranges of voice went all the way from Lawrence Dandridge's raspy, high-pitched voice as Smokey Robinson to the lowest of the low bass of Harrell Holmes Jr. as Melvin Franklin, which were present in both dialogue and song. There were instances of volume inconsistencies, voices sounding muffled or snaps and claps sounding sharp, but the cast's powerful voices wouldn't allow for a few microphone mishaps to overshadow the performance. Matching these unique voices in both tone, pizazz, and punches were Sergio Trujillo's choreography, which was subtle, soulful, silly, and sexy, and the fight direction of Steve Rankin. Of course the choreography of the Temps and the occasional physical fight were interesting to watch from an entertainment standpoint, but the movements designed to supplement the storytelling were unique and exciting.

The style of storytelling used in this musical is perfect for the message it conveys. Otis Williams narrating, at times even encouraging interactions from the crowd, provided the audience with a guide through the band's journey. There were hilarious moments-two members being kicked out and physically rolled off stage, the hostile recording of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" before it became a hit. Some moments were full of sorrow and horror-the news of Dr. King's passing, The Temptations tour bus being violently attacked while traveling through the deep south. Other moments shined light on the raw, inner struggles of the group-long-distance relationships, substance abuse, terminal illness, death. All of these moments were wrapped in the soulful sounds of The Temptations, allowing us to witness the humanity of these stars who once seemed untouchable.

At the height of the energy, the new generation of The Temptations were on stage in sharp white jackets, and the live band was revealed, playing loudly and joyfully. The energy radiating off of the band was fierce, causing audience members to stand, shout, shimmy, clap, and cry, all while hearing and witnessing the live music of The Temptations in 2022. The music that was created on stage, conducted by Jonathan "Smitti" Smith, and the way the instrumentals were married with the voices, simulated a concert that I thought I would only ever be able to imagine. This is the gift of live theatre: the opportunity for art to be reborn-no-to continue living, forever.

Celebrate the legacy of The Temptations and take part in the joy of being one of a new generation of Temps. After all, as Michael Andreaus's Otis Williams said, "the only thing that really lives forever is the music."

Details:

Music Hall at Fair Park September 6-18. Purchase tickets through the Broadway Dallas website. Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. Visit the tour website to learn more about the amazing Cast and Creative.

Book By: Dominique Morisseau (Based on The Temptations by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski)

Music and Lyrics From: The Legendary Motown Catalogue
Photo Credit: 2021 Emilio Madrid

Regional Awards


From This Author - Emily Short

Emily Short just completed her 5th year of teaching high school English but is a lifelong learner. She attended University of Kentucky for her BA in Secondary English Education and a minor in ... (read more about this author)


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