Review: AIN'T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS at Ottawa's National Arts Centre

In performances through December 31st, Ain't Too Proud is the perfect bit of escapism to cap off the holiday season.

By: Dec. 27, 2023
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Review: AIN'T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS at Ottawa's National Arts Centre
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This holiday season, Broadway Across Canada has given Ottawa theatregoers the gift of the Tony Award winning musical, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. Through New Year's Eve, The National Arts Centre stage has been transported to the 1960s, starting with the group’s humble beginnings on the streets of Detroit and taking us to the various locations that welcomed the Temptations to their stages.

The Temptations are a household name, and I grew up listening to and loving their music, along with that of many other Motown groups. But I knew nothing about the band’s road to success or individual struggles until I first saw Ain’t Too Proud in 2018 during its pre-Broadway run in Toronto. Formed in Detroit in 1960, the original group was composed of Otis Williams (Michael Andreaus), Melvin Franklin (Harrell Holmes Jr.), Al Bryant (Reggie Bromell), Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris), and Paul Williams (E. Clayton Cornelious). Each of The Temptations faced their own demons in one form or another, including upbringings rife with abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, relationship turmoil, health issues, and personal loss. Through many ups and downs, the lineup changed over time. Other notable members of The Temptations included David Ruffin (Dwayne P. Mitchell), Dennis Edwards (Treston J. Henderson), and Damon Harris (AJ Lockhart).

Throughout the show, Southam Hall is filled with familiar music that brings back fond memories of our childhoods, or nostalgic reminiscences of our parents or grandparents. The Temptations’ music includes the hit singles, “My Girl”, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, and “Just My Imagination”. With these magical moments, however, also comes the reminder of a darker time in history, when people fought violently in support of segregation, while simultaneously buying the Temptations’ records and attending their concerts. This juxtaposition is briefly, but powerfully shown using the Temptations’ 1968 song, “I Wish It Would Rain” and is easily my favourite part of the show. 

Ain't Too Proud
Brittny Smith, Amber Mariah Talley, Shayla Brielle G.
from the National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud
Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid.

Performances were wonderful all around, especially those by Jalen Harris and Dwayne P. Mitchell, who both have excellent charisma. As Otis Williams, the narrator, founding member, and self-appointed leader of the group, Micheal Andreaus has arguably the most challenging role. He is on stage for almost the entire performance, but he rises to the challenge, gaining the audience’s sympathy as Otis puts the legacy of The Temptations over members’ individual needs, including his own – genuinely believing that the whole of the group is more than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, this train of thought cost him dearly, and are left to wonder if the sacrifices made were worth it.

The sets (Robert Brill) are minimalist and serviceable, but elaborate staging is not required here, as the focus is always on the group and their showmanship. The stage design does make excellent use of a moving carpet though!

This show is a joy to watch, with bedazzled costumes (Paul Tazewell), excellent choreography (Sergio Trujillo), and, of course, the incredible music of the Temptations with songs written by Smokey Robinson (played by AJ Lockhart) and Norman Whitfield (played by Reggie Bromell), as well as the Temptations’ contemporaries, such as The Supremes. If you love R&B, oldies, or simply good music, you will love this musical. On top of that, the Temptations’ story is as remarkable as it is inspiring. Otis Williams demonstrates how leadership and sacrifice can help to – literally – change the world; this serves as a good reminder to ensure history is not repeated, as we see some of the progress made over the last sixty years backpedalling before our eyes.

Ain't Too Proud
Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Jalen Harris, Michael Andreaus,
Harrell Holmes Jr., E. Clayton Cornelious from the
National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud.
Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid.

Despite some gloomy moments, particularly near the end as the ultimate fate of each group member is portrayed, the overall feel of the show is joyful and inspiring. The audience was on their feet applauding the second the show ended. This musical is the perfect bit of escapism to cap off the holiday season.

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Time of The Temptations is in performances through December 31st at the National Arts Centre. Click here for more information or to buy tickets. You can also click here to find out what else Broadway Across Canada has in store for 2024, such as Frozen, SIX, Les Misérables, and the recently announced presentation of The Lion King.


Note that there were several casting substitutions made at the performance I attended. The cast names noted above represents those who performed on December 26th.

 




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