Ain't Too Proud
Review by Willard Manus

A loud, slick, but enjoyable jukebox musical, AIN’T TOO PROUD tells the sprawling story of The Temptations, the male r&b group that went from the Detroit hood to the top of the soul charts in the Motown heyday. Led by Otis Williams (the charismatic Derrick Baskin), the group was one of the first black acts of its kind to ultimately cross over and find acceptance and success with white folks. (The Temptations are still out there today, with a whole new crew of singers performing its songs for smaller but still profitable audiences.)

Those songs, nearly thirty of them, lie at the heart of AIN’T TOO PROUD, and they are sung and danced by the equally large cast, but mostly in snippets. The same is true for Dominique Morisseau’s book, which encompasses the life span of the original Temptations but reduces each of its many scenes to maybe a minute in length. Dramatize fast, sing even faster—this is a musical which believes the attention span of its audience is briefer than a firefly’s life.

That said, there is much to praise about the musical, which premiered last year at Berkeley Rep and was seen this summer at the Kennedy Center (and whose next stop is Broadway). Even when excerpted, songs like “Baby Love,” “Just My Imagination” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” still captivate, especially when delivered in crowd-pleasing fashion by Baskin, Jawan M. Jackson (as Melvin Franklin), Epharaim Sykes (as bad boy David Ruffin), James Harkness (as hard-drinking Paul Williams), and Jeremy Pope (as Eddie Kendricks). These gifted performers deliver the vocal goods, buttressed by Sergio Trujillo’s snap-and-sway choreography and framed by Peter Nigrini’s cinematic set and Howell Binkley’s dazzling lighting. Let’s not forget Des McAnuff’s assured direction, either.

The tale AIN’T TOO PROUD tells, after previous shows like Jersey Boys, is a familiar one: poor kids form a singing group, hustle to make it, then when they do must struggle with fame, money and their own demons to stay together. In the case of The Temptations, they also had to cope with the hold Motown’s founder, Berry Gordy (Jahi Kearse), had over them. Gordy might have made them rich, with the help of manager Shelley Berger (Joshua Morgan), but he was also a control-freak, megalomaniac, and tyrant.

AIN’T TOO PROUD is mostly about Otis Williams’s battle to keep The Temptations from self-destructing—ditto his personal life. As we learn, his devotion to career cost him his marriage, as spelled out in the break-up song his wife Josephine (Rashidra Scott) sings him, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.” His loss and pain are equally keen when he loses friends to drugs, booze, illness, and death. There is much darkness under the glitz and glitter of The Temptation’s r&b fame.

(Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. Visit