Broadway in Cincinnati’s “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” is Slick and Soulful
Review by Nathan Top
Compelling storytelling combined with 31 Motown tunes make one of Broadway’s newest musicals, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, the most slick and soulful show of the spring season.
A collage of the early years of the Temptations, Ain’t Too Proud focuses on Detroit native and narrator Otis Williams, who would become the founder of the number one R&B vocal group of all time. Otis tells of the early generations of the group, his attempts to assemble (and reassemble) the lineup of talented and strong personalities, and the sacrifices he makes along the way to achieve his goal. With a book by the Tony-nominated Genius Grant recipient Dominique Morrisseau, and score of songs from the legendary motown catalog, Ain’t Too Proud is musically nostalgic and stylistically contemporary.
Director Des McAnuff has created a show immensely centered on the audience experience. Unlike other musically biographical stories, which usually end up slowing down and becoming about the music or drug addiction, Ain’t Too Proud is fast, fun, and occasionally heartbreaking, focusing on the story with the music as a secondary element rather than the main course. That being said, the musical numbers are effervescent, with songs arranged by Kenny Seymour and orchestrated by Harold Wheeler. Combined with Sergio Trujillio’s Tony award winning choreography, the show transforms into communal experience for the audience, like a worship service and concert rolled into one.
Scenic designer Robert Brill’s set is sophisticated, seamless, and, when combined with Howell Binkley’s lighting design, visually tells the story of the Temptations just as much as the actors and music. Musical conductor Darryl G. Ivey directs a pit of touring and local musicians through a marathon of a score, matching the energy of an exhaustless cast.
For as many characters as the show introduces, the cast is amazingly economic. Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams is engaging and impressive, jumping between dance numbers, monologues and dramatic scenes opposite Najah Hetsberger as Josephine. Elijah Ahmad Lewis is incredible in the vocally athletic role of the chaotic talent David Ruffin while Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks devours soulful ballads like breakfast cereal through most of the show. Harrell Holmes Jr. as the vocal bass Melvin Franklin and James T. Lane as Paul Williams shares several heart-tugging moments with Marcus James during the latter half of the show. The rest of the cast is incredible as well, tirelessly singing, dancing, changing costumes, and acting their hearts out in one of the most athletic shows I have seen in recent history.
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations runs two and a half hours (including intermission) but flies by in a breathtaking sweep of story, song, and soul. Running now through March 27th, tickets can be purchased here.
Nathan Top is a Cincinnati-based playwright and musician. Nathan works as a freelance trumpeter and pianist, performing in big bands, pit orchestras, and pop groups throughout the area.