|Ain't Too Proud|
by Willard Manus
A loud, slick, but enjoyable jukebox musical, AINT 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 AINT TOO PROUD, and they are sung and danced by the equally large cast, but mostly in snippets. The same is true for Dominique Morisseaus 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 fasterthis is a musical which believes the attention span of its audience is briefer than a fireflys 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 Trujillos snap-and-sway choreography and framed by Peter Nigrinis cinematic set and Howell Binkleys dazzling lighting. Lets not forget Des McAnuffs assured direction, either.
The tale AINT 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 Motowns 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.
AINT TOO PROUD is mostly about Otis Williamss battle to keep The Temptations from self-destructingditto 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 Dont 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 Temptations r&b fame.
(Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. Visit centretheatregroup.org)