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BWW Review: AIN'T TOO PROUD - THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS Dazzles and Delights at The Kennedy Center

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An extra special treat!!

BWW Review: AIN'T TOO PROUD - THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS Dazzles and Delights at The Kennedy Center

Ain't Too Proud - The Life and Times of The Temptations has returned to the Kennedy Center, where it first boasted a sold-out pre-Broadway run in 2018, with well-deserved acclaim and a Tony Awardfor Best Choreography in hand. Ain't Too Proud has faced its fair share of pandemic-related blows: most recently, on Broadway, the omicron variant has forced a premature closing date of January 16, 2022, and the national tour's engagement at the Kennedy Center was postponed nearly two full weeks due to breakthrough cases among the company. It felt like an extra special treat, then, to be able to see the company perform on Thursday night.

Ain't Too Proud, a jukebox musical with music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog and a book by Dominique Morisseau, tells the story of The Temptations, one of the most successful and well-loved vocal groups of all time, from their first days in Detroit in the 1960s to today. (The group is currently on tour celebrating their 60th anniversary.) Directed by Des McAnuff, Ain't Too Proud is told through the eyes of The Temptations' founder and sole remaining original member, Otis Williams, played by Marcus Paul James. Though Otis stands as the one constant on stage as the years and lives around him carry on, the story he tells in Ain't Too Proud extends far beyond just his own.

At its core, Ain't Too Proud is a tender, sympathetic, and deeply fun tale of love and brotherhood. Beginning with his difficult adolescence in Detroit, Otis describes how the group met, focusing primarily on the members of the 60's classic lineup-including himself, Melvin Franklin (Harrell Holmes Jr.), David Ruffin (Elijah Ahmad Lewis), Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris), and Paul Williams (James T. Lane)--and recounts their decades-long struggle with fame amid personal conflict, socio-political strife, and the pressures of the music industry.

In one of my favorite moments of the night, taking place toward the end of the first act as David Ruffin is fired, the group sings "I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)" to one another. It is a heartbreaking scene that showcases the men's deep personal ties to one another and artfully foreshadows the internal strife and loss chronicled in the show's second act. There is deep love and sympathy in the way this story is told, especially in its most tense moments.

Successfully telling a story that spans sixty years of history and the group's numerous member changes is no small feat. Ain't Too Proud is well-paced and takes care in the introduction of each of its characters, giving each their due. The set relies heavily on various screens and projections, a choice that could certainly leave the stage feeling fairly static, but which smoothly guides the audience through each scene and musical number, accenting the production's many astounding performances.

While I did find a few supporting cast members' voices occasionally overpowered by the orchestra, fantastic performances in Ain't Too Proud are certainly not limited to just The Temps-the Cadillacs and The Supremes appearances are both dazzling. The cast's ability to emulate the voices of award-winning singers who hold such revered positions in our cultural psyche is no small feat, and I laud them for doing it so successfully. The stand-out voices of the night were Brett Michael Lockley as Al Bryant, Najah Hetsberger as Otis' wife Josephine, and the brilliant Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin whose renditions of "My Girl" and "I Wish it Would Rain" were especially stunning.

While many scenes take place in concert settings, and the lighting design occasionally displays moving head lights that beam over the audience, don't go into Ain't Too Proud expecting a Temptations concert. The musical features many of the group's most popular songs, including "My Girl," "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)," "Cloud Nine," "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone," and many more, but rarely performs a song in its entirety. Similarly, as the show is based on Otis Williams' book The Temptations and benefits from his insight as Executive Producer, I'd urge prospective viewers not to expect a story you can't already find in other retrospectives about the group. That said, this show is much more than just a sequence of the Temptations' greatest hits and the artful way through which their history is presented is sure to delight even the most die-hard Temptations fan, who already knows the nooks and crannies of The Temps' story.

Ain't Too Proud is perhaps most fundamentally an extended eulogy for Otis Williams' lost brothers and the sacrifices they all made and is a tender ode to the group and, ultimately, music itself. As the show ends, Otis recounts to the audience the losses of his loved ones. Here, before each member makes his final exit, David, Paul, Melvin, and Eddie are each given one final moment on stage, where they can be memorialized against the backdrop of the Temptations' impressive history and wrapped in the love Otis offers them in his final goodbye. Finally, Otis stands alone, reeling from his many losses, and sings.

Ain't Too Proud is onstage at Kennedy Center until January 16th, 2022. Expect a good time, a tug at the heartstrings, and some fantastic voices making music that will surely have you dancing long after the curtain closes. Purchase tickets here.

Running Time: Two hours and 35 minutes with one intermission.

Photo Credit: National Touring Company of Ain't Too Proud. Credit: © 2021 Emilio Madrid.


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