BWW Review: Temptations Musical AIN'T TOO PROUD Pleases Crowds at Kennedy Center

BWW Review: Temptations Musical AIN'T TOO PROUD Pleases Crowds at Kennedy Center

If you're into smooth vocals, sharp moves, and nostalgia-inducing moments that give you goosebumps, AIN'T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS is for you. The musical is completing a pre-Broadway run at the Kennedy Center, and its rock-solid performances and impeccable choreography (Sergio Trujillo) make it a cut above your typical jukebox musical.

Based on Otis Williams' 2012 memoir recounting the Temptations' tumultuous history, the plot is about what you'd expect: the band gets together in Detroit, rises to fame under Berry Gordy's (Jahi Kearse) wing at Motown Records, experiences existential crises and inner turmoil, and ultimately becomes the wildly successful R&B group we've known and loved for generations. Several shows along these same lines, including but certainly not limited to JERSEY BOYS, SUMMER: THE Donna Summer MUSICAL, and BEAUTIFUL: THE Carole King MUSICAL, have made up an oversaturated market in recent years. Even so, AIN'T TOO PROUD manages to set itself apart with its flawless execution.

As Williams, Derrick Baskin narrates the unfolding drama to the audience, and Dominique Morisseau's book provides a serviceable framework to tie together the songs -- which, let's be honest, is why we're all here. The music itself is a crowd-pleaser. It's hard to go wrong with truly soulful renditions of "Just My Imagination", "My Girl", "Papa Was a Rolling Stone", and 28 other hits that just keep coming. What the cast does with these songs is remarkable. The electricity and emotion makes it feel as though these classics are being performed before an audience for the very first time. And I can't say enough about the deliciously synchronized moves: quite simply, they're eye candy.

Along with Baskin as Williams, the four other original Temptations anchor the production: Ephraim Sykes as mercurial, magnetic David Ruffin; Jeremy Pope as rebellious Eddie Kendricks; James Harkness as honey-voiced Paul Williams; and Jawan M. Jackson as lovable bass Melvin Franklin. Each of them is given multiple moments to shine brightly across a fast-moving two and a half hours. Williams is the last surviving original group member, with 24 men having rotated in and out over the years.

Along with the tension within the Temptations, the story explores the group's response to civil unrest in the country and their struggle to sustain "crossover appeal" without getting too political, unlike other artists who released material to address issues of the day ("War"). Also par for the anthology-musical course, there are plenty of personal problems, including marital strife, addiction, and death.

The Temptations left a legacy that belied this underlying tension, music that stood alone and rose above. AIN'T TOO PROUD captures the dark side of the story, and the near-perfect delivery of the material makes it worth seeing, even for cynics and skeptics who tend to avoid the genre.

Running time: approximately 2 hours 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

AIN'T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS runs through July 22, 2018, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20566. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling (202) 467-4600.

Photo: From left, Jawan M. Jackson as Melvin Franklin, James Harkness as Paul Williams, Jeremy Pope as Eddie Kendricks, Derrick Baskin as Otis Williams, and Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin; photo by Doug Hamilton, courtesy of the Kennedy Center.

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From This Author Barbara Johnson

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