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ain't too proud - The Life and Times of The Temptations

We were beginning to learn the real cost of success — Otis
Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Jawan M. Jackson, James Harkness, and Derrick Baskin (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
The latest in the near avalanche of new shows with old scores known affectionately as the jukebox musical is ain't too proud:The Life and Times of The Temptations . It is neither the best nor the worst in this genre as it celebrates the legacy of five talented black singers whose delivery of the R&B catalog and "psychedelic soul" during the 1960s was enhanced by their flashy performance style. Structured along the same biographical lines of the hugely successful Jersey Boys, ain't too proud has that been-there-done-that veneer that diminishes the uniqueness that distinguished the group.

Speaking of avalanche, no less than thirty-one Motown songs are performed with a slick and polished vigor but only rarely in their entirety, a decision that gives short shrift to some of the best of them. Director Des McAnuff continues to refine a formula that worked best for Jersey Boys and less so for Summer, the bio-musical about Donna Summer.

Despite terrific performances by a multi-talented cast, there is a limit to the pleasures derived from Sergio Trujillo's somewhat repetitious choreography, however smartly deployed in one number after another.

The individual back stories that bridge the songs of the famed quintet, supply just enough factual and personal details to give each of the performers a modestly distinguishing frame. The musical numbers loosely frame stories that appear as only obligingly perfunctory— surprising considering the book is by lauded playwright Dominique Morisseau (Pipeline , Skeleton Crew ).

Even though Morisseau supplies more outline than insight, it is almost enough to appreciate and respect the group for its ambitions and its abilities, and without ignoring their various shortcomings. A narrative thread, based on Otis Williams' memoirs, is provided with an ingratiating sincerity. The real world intrudes with time-line references to touring the segregated South, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the protests against the Vietnam War. But these seem to function largely as historical filler.

The musical numbers come at us with astonishing speed and a predictable regularity, with most of them over almost in a flash. This, as we see how the group was formed in Detroit and quickly defined a style under the Motown umbrella and management of Berry Gordy (Jahi Kewarse). In succession, they lose and gain members right and left as they cope with drug addiction, abuse of alcohol, women, success, splitting up and eventually reuniting for a rousing grand finale.

There is no lack of memorable performances: Jeremy Pope, who recently starred in Choir Boy is Eddie Kendricks, the group's constant critic; awesome falsetto; Ephraim Sykes is the extraordinarily loose and limber David Ruffin; Jawan M. Jackson is the glorious basso Melvin Franklin plagued by ill-health; James Harkness is the tragic alcoholic Paul Williams. All are individually and collectively standout.

Visually, the show's color palette, with its easy flow of functional settings designed by Robert Brill, is notable for the predominance of black and grey. The only glam and glitter arrives in the burst of red and sequined rainbow-hued gowns designed by Paul Tazewell for the two numbers sung by The Supremes.

Candice Marie Woods is a breathtaking Diana Ross. But so also are the Temptations, one and all in a show that otherwise leaves us invigorated if not quite breathless.

Ain't Too Proud to Beg
Baby Love
Ball of Confusion
Cloud Nine
Come See About Me
Don't Look Back
For Once In My Life
I Can't Get Next to You
I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)
(I Know) I'm Losing You
I Want a Love I Can See
I Wish It Would Rain
If I Could Build My Whole World Around You)
If You Don't Know Me By Now
I'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
The Way You Do the Things You Do
What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
You Can't Hurry Love
You're My Everything

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Ain't Too Proud - The Life and Times of The Temptations
Book by Dominique Morisseau.
usic and Lyrics from theMotown Catalog
Based on the book The Temptations by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski.
Directed by Des McAnuff
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo.

Cast: Derrick Baskin(Paul Williams, James Harkness(Paul Williams), Jawan M. Jackson(Melvin Franklin), Jeremy Pope(Eddie Kendricks), Ephraim Sykes(David Ruffin)

Saint Aubyn(Dennis Edwards), Shawn Bowers(Dennis Edwards), E. Clayton Cornelious("Gloria" Soloist,Richard Street, Ensemble), Taylor Symone Jackson(Johnnie Mae,Mary Wilson, Ensemble), Jahi Kearse(Berry Gordy, Ensemble), Jarvis B. Manning Jr.(Al Bryant,Norman Whitfield,Dnsemble), Joshua Morgan(Shelly Berger, Ensemble), Rashidra Scott(Josephine,Ensemble), Nasia Thomas(Mama Rose,Florence Ballard,Tammi Terrell,Esemble), Christian Thompson(Smokey Robinson, Damon Harris,Ensemble), Candice Marie Woods (Diana Ross,Ensemble).

Scenic design by Robert Brill
Costume design by Paul Tazewell
Lighting design by Howell Binkley
Sound design by Steve Canyon Kennedy
Projection design by Peter Nigrini
Hair and wig and design by Charles G. LaPointe
Fight director: Steve Rankin
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Vocal supervisor:Liz Caplan
Orchestrations: Harold Wheeler
Music direction and arrangements: Kenny Seymour
Production Stage Manager: Molly Meg Legal
Stage Manager: Jay Carey
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, 1 intermission
Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street
From 2/28/19; opening 3/21/19
Reviewed by Simon Salzman on March 23rd

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