Ain't Too Proud review
The less you know about the Temptations, the more youâ€™ll get out of â€śAinâ€™t Too Proud,â€ť a finger-snapping, hand-clapping new jukebox musical passing through Los Angelesâ€™ Ahmanson Theatre en route to Broadway, where it is scheduled to open at the Imperial next spring. This nearly-all-black showâ€™s got a lot going for it, between the sheer quality of the beloved R&B vocal groupâ€™s catalog and director Des McAnuffâ€™s experience with such material (including the Four Seasons tuner â€śJersey Boysâ€ť and â€śSummer: The Donna Summer Musicalâ€ť), and yet, considering that the Temptations â€” who are, incredibly enough, still touring â€” have several SoCal playdates this September, itâ€™s hard to compete with the thrill of seeing the actual group in concert.
Of course, we could debate all day whether todayâ€™s Temptations are still the same Temptations that broke through in the â€™60s and â€™70s with such hits as â€śMy Girl,â€ť â€śJust My Imagination (Running Away with Me),â€ť and â€śPapa Was a Rollinâ€™ Stone.â€ť The group has cycled through no fewer than 24 members over the years, and that interchangeability becomes the subject of Dominique Morisseauâ€™s book, in which Derrick Baskin, as Temptations founder Otis Williams, talks us through a simplified version of the groupâ€™s making and unmaking â€” already well-documented in NBCâ€™s 1998 miniseries â€” focusing on the so-called â€śClassic Fiveâ€ť and how their dynamic was affected by woman troubles, drugs, illness, and, of course, clashing egos.
Like a talky lounge act, or one of those Disney television specials in which old Walt served as our folksy on-camera host, â€śAinâ€™t Too Proudâ€ť does more telling than showing, alternating between narration (drawn from Otis Williamsâ€™ memoir) and short samples of classic R&B hits â€” a surprising number of which arenâ€™t Temptations songs at all. For example, the show first soars with â€śShout,â€ť during which audiences can hardly resist joining in, while some may find themselves saying, â€śI didnâ€™t realize this was a Temptations song.â€ť (It isnâ€™t. That song belongs to the Isley Brothers, but provides the burst of energy needed near the opening.)
Still, with slick coordinated dance moves and charisma to burn, these talented crooners do a fine job performing an exciting mix of classic R&B hits, whether theyâ€™re covering the Temptations or another group entirely (as a governing rule, all songs are drawn from â€śthe legendary Motown catalogâ€ť). Between snippets of old favorites, which typically run no more than 30 seconds, â€śAinâ€™t Too Proudâ€ť paints the picture of how the group came together. Inspired by the Cadillacs (in a scene featuring their song â€śGloriaâ€ť), Otis decides to assemble his own group, first Otis Williams and the Distants, then the Elgins, and finally the Temptations â€” though it took them 24 singles before one of their songs finally landed on the charts.
Thereâ€™s a cute scene in which Otis attempts to enlist power-bass Melvin Franklin (Jawan M. Jackson), who interested but insists that first Otis must convince his mother (Nasia Thomas, later Diana Ross), and a history-making encounter with Motown Records honcho Berry Gordy (Jahi Kearse) in a Detroit menâ€™s room. Gordy introduces them to silky songwriter Smokey Robinson (Christian Thompson), who is arguably the secret to the groupâ€™s success, and assigns them manager Shelly Berger (Joshua Morgan, the ensembleâ€™s only white face). But fame has its price â€” as every musical biopic ever so slavishly reminds us â€” and things go predictably awry when lead singer David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes) and falsetto Eddie Kendricks (Jeremy Pope) start to believe their own hype, and choreographer Paul Williams (James Harkness) struggles with alcoholism.
Early on, Otis learns that his girlfriend Josephine (Rashidra Scott) is pregnant, resulting in a hasty wedding and the birth of a son whose half-ignored childhood lends an emotional depth to â€śPapa Was a Rollinâ€™ Stoneâ€ť in the showâ€™s final 10 minutes. Although Otis doesnâ€™t get a proper solo until the very end, his personal life inspires the showâ€™s best number, in which jaded wife Josephine sings â€śIf You Donâ€™t Know Me by Nowâ€ť (again, not a Temptations song) with all the intensity that â€śDreamgirlsâ€ť star Jennifer Holliday brought to â€śAnd Iâ€™m Telling You Iâ€™m not Going.â€ť
Speaking of â€śDreamgirls,â€ť â€śAinâ€™t Too Proudâ€ť ainâ€™t got nothing on that musical, with its original songs and whirlwind retelling of Motown history. Even though theyâ€™re just supporting players in the Temptations musical, the trio playing the Supremes easily upstage their male co-stars, putting the lie to the outsized claim that the Temptations have been called â€śthe best group in the history of Rhythm and Blues.â€ť (Technically, anyone could call any group that, though who could top the Supremes?)
In any case, compared to â€śDreamgirls,â€ť this show feels like a glorified PowerPoint presentation, using high-power projectors to beam the names of tour stops and black-and-white photos and footage (such as headlines announcing Martin Luther King Jr.â€™s assassination, or B-roll of Vietnam) onto the relatively simple set. A rotating disc and horizontal treadmill allow for some creative staging, but it wouldâ€™ve taken a more creative script to match the energy of the music itself.
If anything, the unexpected takeaway of â€śAinâ€™t Too Proudâ€ť â€” which reveals that the songwriting was often more important than the singers â€” is that so many of the Temptationsâ€™ hits could have been performed by any well-cast vocal group, and that they could have made many other Motown songs sound twice as sweet.
Last Update:February, 28th 2019
Ain't Too Proud Lyrics
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg
- All I Need
- Baby Love
- Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)
- Cloud Nine
- Come See About Me
- Don't Look Back
- For Once in My Life
- Get Ready
- Gloria Lyrics
- I Can't Get Next To You
- I Could Never Love Another
- (I Know) I'm Losing You
- I Want A Love I Can See
- I Wish It Would Rain
- If You Don't Know Me By Now
- Iâ€™m Gonna Make You Love Me
- In the Still of the Night
- Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)
- My Girl
- Papa Was a Rollin' Stone
- Runaway Child, Running Wild
- Since I Lost My Baby
- Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)
- The Way You Do the Things You Do
- What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
- You Canâ€™t Hurry Love
- You're My Everything