AINT TOO PROUD THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS by Dominique Morisseau, based on the book by Otis.
AINT TOO PROUD THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS by Dominique Morisseau, based on the book by Otis Williams, featuring songs by the Temptations (David Mirvish). Runs to November 17. $59-$185. 416-872-1212. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Like many theatregoers, Im fed up with jukebox musicals. Too many seem like cynical cash grabs capitalizing on baby boomers nostalgia and bulging wallets.
But even though Aint Too Proud, fuelled by the songs made famous by the enduring Motown group the Temptations, tells a standard career story that wouldnt be out of place in a Behind The Music segment, its so thoughtfully staged and energetically performed that none of that matters. Its one helluva show.
Derrick Baskins Otis Williams narrates the work (based on his memoir), taking us through the groups formation in mid-1960s Detroit to meeting Motown head honcho Berry Gordy (Marqell Edward Clayton), finding their group name, attempting crossover success, achieving it and then checking off all those musical bio boxes: complications with relationships, egos, drugs and alcohol.
And because the Temptations were a pioneering Black crossover success during one of the most tumultuous eras in America, the group confronts racism, reacting strongly to the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and pondering whether to sing protest songs in the 70s.
Despite these serious matters, the Des McAnuff-directed show, like the group itself, is mostly concerned with sweet sounds funk, soul and R&B slick moves and sharp duds.
You can feel the audiences enthusiasm spike when the band, headed by Kenny Seymour, starts into a classic like My Girl or Shout and the cast struts out in matching blazers and tailored pants (costumes are by Paul Tazewell), their fingers snapping, hips gyrating and limbs unfolding in perfect synchronized movements. Expect a Tony nomination for Toronto-raised choreographer Sergio Trujillo, whose moves communicate as much about a song as the voices.
And what voices what performances. If, like me, you didnt know the original members names, vocal ranges and stories, you will after watching Baskin, James Harkness (Paul Williams), Jawan M. Jackson (Melvin Franklin), Jeremy Pope (Eddie Kendricks) and Ephraim Sykes (David Ruffin) as the groups classic five.
Each member gets at least one showstopping moment, and McAnuff stages their exits from the group, or, in some cases, from life with dignity.
Book writer Dominique Morisseau, one of the best U.S. playwrights alive, is constrained by the limits of the shows narrative and lack of momentum, especially in the second act. But the dialogue is efficient and full of drama.
And lest you think the show is merely a glorified medley, Morisseau and the cast wring emotional notes from domestic strife. The way McAnuff stages a reprise of Papa Was A Rolling Stone is so startling and effective it will induce tears. One of many magic moments in this highly entertaining musical memoir.