Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday August 28, 2018

Ephraim Sykes .Jeremy Pope ,James Harkness. Jared Joseph, and Derrick Baskin in "Ain't Too Proud-The Life and Times of The Temptations." Photo by litwin
Ephraim Sykes .Jeremy Pope ,James Harkness. Jared Joseph, and Derrick Baskin in "Ain't Too Proud-The Life and Times of The Temptations." Photo by litwin  

Director Des McAnuff ("Jersey Boys" and "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical," currently on Broadway) definitely has a signature style, which is very apparent with his latest Broadway-bound show "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations."

This musical tells the story of the rise of the iconic 1960s Motown group (famous for such hits as "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg"), that hits all the expected notes and beats, so much so that it ends up feeling all too familiar. Most of the story is told through on-stage narration by founding member Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin), which makes sense as the show is based on his biography "The Temptations." Throughout he explains how he formed the group, which members were added, which ones left and why, and how they all dealt with fame and, eventually, died off. There is nothing startlingly new here, although there is a small fascination in how the group came to be the best-selling R&B group of all time.

At the same time, it's an often told, generic story in which you know that the group will eventually have a #1 single; will rise to fame courtesy of a tried and true manager; have difficult personnel changes; be affected by drug use, and do their best to stay together. All of this is accentuated with over 25 Temptations tunes sprinkled in the narrative. The problem is none of the songs are ever played all the way through. Instead, they almost become background noise. Some scenes beg for silence because of their gravity to the story, but their emotional impact is lost because the members of the group not involved in the scene are off on the sidelines singing some signature "Temptations" tune.

What "Ain't Too Proud" becomes - like Des McAnuff's previous biographical shows - is a Greatest Hits version of a band's legacy. It's like watching a two-and-a-half hour montage where everything that happens to the band is told to us. Nothing is played out dramatically with any sort of weight or suspense. It's just: "Here's what happened and here's how we dealt with it. And now let's sing three-quarters of a song."

To be fair, every actor sings and dances their ass off. Baskin holds the show together in capable hands, and Ephraim Sykes as lead singer David Ruffin almost steals the show; clearly, he is a break out talent ready to dominate. The same for Rashidra Scott as Otis' long-suffering wife Josephine who has a stand-out number late in the second half of the show.

It's all pleasant enough and McAnuff's direction keeps things moving - albeit on a fairly well-known route. This is a show for fans of The Temptations and audiences who just want a feel-good time with tunes they already know. It's a show built for touring and has the best of intentions.

For frequent theatergoers, it won't be an earth-shattering experience, but it's a sure-fire way to catch new talent. As for a revelatory night at the theatre, this isn't it.

"Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations" runs through September 30th at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA. For more information and tickets contact www.centertheatregroup.org.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.