By Kimberly Rau
“Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations,” a jukebox musical chronicling the rise of one of Motown’s greatest groups, is at the Providence Performing Arts Center this week. Boasting a compelling story line and top-notch cast, this is one show that’s guaranteed to entertain everyone.
Even if you’re not the generation that came of age listening to The Temptations, their reach is such that you know their music, and there’s probably at least one song you really love. What you may not know is the story that brought the group together, and the trials they faced as they made their way to the top of the Billboard charts. There are the expected pitfalls of fame, of course: trouble with spouses, addiction, unresolved childhood issues magnified by the pressure of the spotlight, but the group also was at the forefront of integrating radio and television during a tumultuous period in history. With a background like that, and an impressive song catalog, “Ain’t Too Proud” is set up for success.
However, a show like “Ain’t Too Proud” requires a cast as tight as the original group to really soar. You need a charismatic frontman or two. A man who can sing bass “lower than the devil.” Someone else with a staff-breaking tenor range. A guy who can literally embody the force of nature that was David Ruffin. And they all need to sound like they grew up harmonizing together, and be able to dance.
Lucky us, because whoever cast the tour knocked it out of the park. Truly an ensemble show, “Ain’t Too Proud” wouldn’t be what it is without every person on that stage. And without exception, everyone in the show gives a fabulous performance. Michael Andreaus is the charismatic Otis Williams, the founder of the group and only surviving original Temptation. Andreaus, a strong, talented actor and singer, is the perfect Williams. Harrell Holmes Jr. plays bass singer Melvin Franklin, and while his voice is beautiful, his acting skills are off the charts. He embodies the character so fully that, after Franklin discloses he has arthritis, I felt sympathy for how painful the dance steps Holmes was executing must have been, and had to remind myself that he (probably) doesn’t actually have arthritis.
Elijah Ahmad Lewis plays David Ruffin, and is a thrill to watch. His voice and attitude are just right for the role; his dancing skills are exceptional. The “bad boy” of the original five, Ruffin ultimately was cast out of the group for his disruptive antics. Lewis makes you understand why voting to do so was so difficult for the cast.
This is a cast so talented that you can’t go wrong no matter who you focus on. And with a rocking orchestra backing them up, it’s impossible not to be swept away by some of the era’s greatest hits, including “My Girl,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and “Shout.” There are also snippets from some of the Supremes’ biggest hits. The Temptations have come a long way since their start in Detroit, and they have a story worth hearing. Give them some time this weekend. You won’t be disappointed.
“Ain’t Too Proud” runs through Jan. 28 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.