|AIN'T TOO PROUD|
Ever since “Jersey Boys” debuted in 2005, it’s been a lingering question for some if any jukebox musical (and there have been plenty since) will match its gold standard. The latest challenger is “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations,” now at the Imperial Theatre, which features the sterling work of much of the former musical’s creative team, including director DesMcAnuff and choreographer Sergio Trujillo.
But unlike “Jersey Boys,” this show, which follows the ups and downs of the super-selling Motown group, is told entirely from the perspective of one person: its only surviving original member, Otis Williams (played by Derrick Baskin). As might be expected, Williams (as was proved by his autobiography) is something of an unreliable narrator, and many important facts and timelines have been condensed, rearranged, eliminated or completely changed, sometimes reducing the actual drama of the group’s truly turbulent story.
Moreover, he’s also a rather too-nice one, letting everyone in sight (including himself) off the hook a bit too easily for some pretty nasty personal failings, ranging from alcohol and drug use to extra-marital affairs, domestic abuse and less-than-ideal parenting. Despite the solid work of Baskin, who is asked to do more heavy lifting here than a granite quarry worker, and some fine dialogue by the award-winning playwright Dominique Morriseau, I suspect this version of the Temptations story might not even make the cut for VH1’s “Behind the Music.”
Musically, however, the show is on much surer footing. One cannot underestimate the invaluable contributions of the other men playing the so-called “classic five”: the electrifying Ephraim Sykes as the egotistical if supremely talented singer David Ruffin; the extremely charismatic and angelic-voiced Jeremy Pope as the strong-willed Eddie Kendricks (coming straight off his equally superb turn in “Choir Boy”); the fleet-footed and intensely likeable James Harkness as Paul Williams; and the endearing Jawan M. Jackson as the usually agreeable Melvin Fredericks.
Along with Baskin, they harmonize beautifully, move athletically and look great in Paul Tazewell’s period costumes, all while deftly handling many of the group’s big hits, including “My Girl,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” and “The Way You Do Things You Do.” Kudos belong as well to the excellent Saint Aubyn as Dennis Edwards, Ruffin’s replacement, who rocks out on the iconic “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”
Unsurprisingly, the show puts the mighty Motown catalogue to good use, including snippets of the great hits of The Supremes (nicely embodied by Candice Marie Woods, Nasia Thomas and Taylor Symone Jackson) and Harkness’ passionate “For Once In My Life” (which was written and recorded by Stevie Wonder, but performed by Williams in many of the Temptations’ live shows). And fittingly, if a bit oddly, the show concludes with the gorgeous “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” a stirring ballad made famous by Jimmy Ruffin, David’s older brother, way back in 1963.
But whether the show ultimately wins gold, silver or bronze in your heart; the -reality is that many of today’s theatergoers all-too-happily bask in the glow of nostalgia. So it’s not just my imagination that thousands of people will find themselves begging for a ticket for this sure-to-be-sold-out tuner. >>
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Derrick Baskin, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Ephraim Sykes, Esther Antoine, Saint Aubyn, Shawn Bowers, E. Clayton Cornelious, Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., Taylor Symone Jackson, Jahi Kearse, Jarvis B. Manning Jr., Joshua Morgan, Rashidra Scott, Nasia Thomas, Christian Thompson, Curtis Wiley, Candice Marie Woods
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