Directed by Des McAnuff and on stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre until November 17, this production is both concert and a tumultuous tale of one of the greatest R&B groups of all time. Come for the music; leave with life lessons.
Focused largely on the group’s original members — five young Black men in Detroit — the production sets their successes and struggles to the track of 31 hit tunes from The Legendary Motown Catalog, made famous by the Temptations and their contemporaries. Music director Kenny Seymour’s 15-piece band delivers. Expect to hear classics such as “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “Just My Imagination,” and “I Wish It Would Rain.”
The Temptations rose in the charts as civil unrest rose in America. Amidst racial tensions, their music became popular with both African-American and white audiences. They grappled with the concessions they made to appeal to the latter and learned that, in a society rife with prejudice, fans may love your talent without loving you.
Yet despite external challenges, each of the Temptations’ most significant battles began from within. Their story stresses that the price of success is sacrifice, but at what height of success is that price too high?
Audiences will discover the answers as the story, based on the book titled The Temptations by Otis Williams and adapted for the stage by playwright Dominique Morisseau, is framed through Williams’ eyes as the last living member of the original five. Derrick Baskin plays Williams, the backbone of the group, with the mental fortitude to drive the Temptations to the top. Ephraim Sykes plays the increasingly volatile David Ruffin, the group’s first lead singer with a killer voice and wicked dance moves.
Derrick Baskin, Jeremy Pope, Jawan M. Jackson, Ephraim Sykes and James Harkness in AIN’T TOO PROUD. Photo by Matthew Murphy
James Harkness as Paul Williams, Jawan M. Jackson as Melvin Franklin — in possession of the iconic deep, satin voice — and Jeremy Pope as Eddie Kendricks round out the original members who were caught in the inevitable drama between Otis Williams and Ruffin.
The energy on stage never waned, and the actors who portray these suave singers with passion, style and class will motivate you to enroll your son in the performing arts. When it comes to style, their fashion, in particular, was created by Tony Award-winning costume designer Paul Tazewell. Tazewell seemingly created the group’s classic-looking threads with an echo from the past balanced with the sharpness of present-day trends. When it comes down to the Temptation’s smooth moves, Sergio Trujillo’s choreography will make you wish you were dancing like it’s the 1960s and ’70s.
Audiences will also enjoy Marqell Edward Clayton’s portrayal of Motown Records’ executive Berry Gordy, Christian Thompson’s brief appearance as singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson, and Candice Marie Woods singing as Diana Ross, all in their youth. If it’s possible to travel back in time, meet the movers and shakers in the music industry and see the Temptations on stage in their prime, then Ain’t Too Proud has succeeded, transporting audiences with every note.
Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West. Mirvish.com, 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333.
Ruane Remy is a writer, editor and interviewer in Toronto. She enjoys writing about people, their fascinating work and her encounters with arts and culture in the city. She holds a master’s degree in Journalism from Ryerson University and a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing from York University. Follow her on Twitter.