By Kimberly Rau
The national tour of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” arrived at PPAC this week, and, considering the reaction of Tuesday’s opening night crowd, this jukebox musical chronicling the rise of one of Motown’s most influential groups is a chart-topping hit.
The story is a familiar one: young men growing up in Detroit in the 1960s have few options that don’t lead to a criminal record (and Otis Williams, the front man for The Temptations, does a stint in juvenile hall before deciding that he’d rather sing than stand in front of a judge again). Five talent guys form a group and catch the eye of the Motown record label, skyrocketing them to success. Along the way, members leave, new men join and one song after another tops the charts against a background of social change and racial unrest. Internally, the group struggles with fame, “crossing over” in order to appeal to a wide variety of listeners, creative control and personal drama and demons. (To date, there have been 24 different members of The Temptations.)
But, it’s not the story that sells this show (though the book by Dominique Morisseau is decent). It’s the music, of course, and the slick Motown-inspired choreography from Sergio Trujillo, but especially the incredibly talented actors that take on the daunting feat of representing some of the most recognizable voices in music. The show is mostly narrated by Otis Williams, played by the exceptionally talented Marcus Paul James. Then there’s crooner Eddie Kendricks, played by Jalen Harris, whose smooth, perfectly controlled falsetto more than does justice to Kendricks’ signature high tenor range.
On the opposite end of the (music) scale is Melvin Franklin (Harrell Holmes Jr.), whose deep bass range grounded the group…and whose levelheadedness grounded the more hotheaded members on more than one occasion. Holmes does an excellent job with this role. Paul Williams, whose life was tragically cut short, is played by James T. Lane, a powerhouse of a singer with some serious dance skills. And finally, there’s David Ruffin, one of the most recognizable Temptations, whose voice and dance moves captured audiences’ hearts…and helped lead an ego-driven downfall for Ruffin. He’s played by Elijah Ahmad Lewis, who is perfect for the part.
And that’s just a sampling of some of the incredible talent in this tour. Along with many, many recognizable Temptations hits, the show also offers more than one (sadly truncated) performance from The Supremes, and showcases other famous songs from the era. (Trivia: The iconic protest song “War” was originally intended for The Temptations, but was panned by a manager as being too political for the group.) Director Des McAnuff does a great job keeping things moving, and what the show may slightly lack in storyline it more than makes up for in engaging tunes and talent, creating a fun experience for fans old and new. Check it out if you have the time this weekend; you won’t be disappointed.
Ain’t Too Proud runs through April 17 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org or by calling 401.421.2787. Masks are optional; proof of vaccination is not required.