The smashingly entertaining musical, “Ain't Too Proud--The Life and Times of the Temptations,” dramatizes the renowned group’s phenomenal success in its 1960s and 70s era. The performers who impersonate the various members are sensational in their rhythm and blues singing and the slick, super-cool movements that enhance their magnetism.
An audience apparently filled with many who grew up on the Temptations’ hit songs whooped and hollered approval through the show that I attended. Director Des McAnuff, choreographer Sergio Trujillo, the entire cast and production team are delivering what audiences are coming to hear. It is all done with the height of Broadway professionalism, and that demands special praise to scenic designer Robert Brlll. lighting designer Howell Binkley, sound designer Steven Canyon Kennedy, projection designer Peter Nigrini and costume designer Paul Tazewell, who all contribute mightily to the overall splash of this lively production.
The story is framed by the looking-back narration by Otis Williams, played with intimate charm by Derrick Baskin, an initial founder of The Temptations. The show’s book by Dominique Morisseau is based on Williams’ memoir “The Temptations,” which he wrote with Patricia Romanowski. A big plus is that the dialogue is usually quickly underlined by songs, which means that this staging doesn’t get encumbered by too much talk. Everything moves swiftly, with the introduction of one number after another, thus avoiding any feeling of a contrived jukebox salute.
We get the picture of the rise and eventual decline of the group, and the upward beat for a reunion tour. We are privy to the inevitable conflicts among performers trying to act like brothers. As time goes by the composition of the group changes, mush of that fleshed out. Ultimately, we are told, there have been 28 members who kept the five-man group going. Also included is the toll taken on Otis and his wife, Josephine, warmly played by Rashida Scott, by Otis being on the road so much and concentrating so hard on the group.
Heading the cast in addition to Baskin are James Harkness as Paul Williams, Jawan M. Jackson as Melvin Franklin, Jeremy Pope as Eddie Kendricks, and Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin. Along the way we meet The Supremes, with Diana Ross vocalized by Candice Marie Woods, Christian Thompson as Smokey Robinson, Jahi Kearse as record kingpin Berry Gordy, who steers The Temptations to hit after hit. They are part of a huge cast of men and women who flesh out the story.
Serious notes of the times are reflected, including the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., riots in Detroit, racial discrimination and the Vietnam War. But the show is also filled with much humor.
All said, the musical performances (31 songs are included) are what raise the roof, with some razzle-dazzle choreography and audience members invited to chime in with the singing. One never gets the feeling of the show being labored. If an audience is looking for a pure package of pleasure, this is surely it, even for younger theatergoers who may never have heard of The Temptations. They will feel the Motown R & B beat of a generation. At the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed March 28, 2019.