You’ve got The Supremes, and Martha and The Vandellas, and the Four Tops, and Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and many more – all these great, great Motown acts. And, of course, you have The Temptations. Ain’t Too Proud charts their life, their rise, their setbacks, their fall-outs, their failed relationships and, their defining characteristic, their genius.
5 singers. 5 different voices. 5 cool guys. One group. One sensational group. They climbed the charts, they touched the heights they rose to the top and in this show, we go with them every step of the way through that musical adventure, through that voyage of song, through that multi-million dollar journey right up to the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. So if that sounds good – Get Ready!
Some of their great numbers naturally feature in the show – My Girl, If You Don’t Know Me By Now and Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone – to name but a few though apart from the classics some of their songs can be a bit samey and not particularly inspiring. The injection, therefore, of the sharp, scarlet-sequinned Supremes (Holly Liburd as Diana Ross, Sadie-Jean Shirley as Mary Wilson) adds some real oomph to the show just when it begins to flag and their vibrant, beautifully sung numbers and energy give the show a real lift.
Like many Motown groups, The Temptations had their small-scale, limited choreographed routines for concerts and performances. These are very much of their time (’sixties/’seventies) and, I would suggest, have a limited appeal to audiences these days. After a couple of intro numbers, I would have liked to have seen much more ambitious staging and movement from choreographer Sergio Trujillo for some of the numbers as the show progresses which may not be so authentic but would be more exciting for a modern audience.
Before the show starts there is a full-scale black monochrome backdrop of the front of a theatre. This recurs throughout the show with the name of the particular town and headline acts emblazoned across it. Again – authentic: but mighty boring. It’s basically used as a story-aid which points to a weakness in Dominique Morisseau’s book. In this day and theatrical age, with all the lights, colour, technology and special effects, this backdrop is disappointingly drab.
Still, as an audience member, if it’s just the music you want with some fairly basic linking dialogue then you’ll be happy – as many clearly were at the performance I attended.
The show is narrated by Otis Williams (Sifiso Mazibuko) who was the founder, and is the last surviving member, of The Temptations. It’s his book, written with Patricia Romanowski, that the show is based on. I don’t think Mazibuko has a lot to work with as Williams isn’t exactly a ball of fire and the narration is, at best, stodgy and stilted. He sings fine of course as do the rest of the group – Cameron Bernard Jones as Melvin Franklin, Mitchell Zhangazha as Eddie Kendricks, Kyle Cox as Paul Williams, Tosh Wanogho-Maud as David Ruffin – the signature close harmony of The Temptations being effectively reproduced by the performers.
Wanogho-Maud catches the eye – as did Ruffin – in the group. He added the wayward star quality until he was summarily fired from The Temptations for his drug use and unreliability. He saw himself as the star, as special, and wanted the band to be re-named David Ruffin and The Temptations (like, say Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes or Martha Reeves and the Vandellas). His penchant for turning up to gigs in a separate limo, along with girlfriend Tammi Terrell – the exceptional female vocalist who died, tragically, at the age of 24 – grated with the rest of the group. Later Ruffin missed gigs altogether as he preferred to watch his new girlfriend, Barbara Gail Martin (Dean Martin’s daughter), perform. Ruffin’s party trick was then to jump up on stage in Temptations gigs, grab the mike from his successor, Dennis Edwards, and sing the lead on Ain’t Too Proud To Beg. Ruffin died at the age of 50 from a cocaine overdose.
Wanogho-Maud has a superb voice but, at this performance, the sound balance – particularly for him – was far from perfect.
Generally, the lives of the group aren’t particularly spectacular and one trick I think the script misses is the notorious trip to the deep, white south where the tour bus is shot at. This is given very perfunctory treatment and could well have been explored in much greater depth, keyed into the Civil Rights Movement that so resonated in the mid-to late-‘sixties.
Generally though people will enjoy the show – particularly aficionados – though with the limited staging, at times slightly strange costume changes and quirky choice of songs – as well as the time-scale – some may find it a bit of a ball of confusion.
Review by Peter Yates
AIN’T TOO PROUD is the exhilarating new musical following the remarkable journey of THE TEMPTATIONS from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
TONY Award-winning choreography and Grammy Award-winning music tell a thrilling story of brotherhood, loyalty and betrayal set to the beat of the group’s most treasured hits, including My Girl, Just My Imagination, Get Ready, Papa Was a Rolling Stone and so many more.
With their signature dance moves and unmistakable harmonies, THE TEMPTATIONS rose to the top of the charts with a staggering 42 Top-Ten Hits and 14 Number Ones. The rest is history.
Ain’t Too Proud
Prince Edward Theatre, London
31 Mar 2023 – 1 Oct 2023