Review: An All-Star Team from the Temptations Musical ‘Ain’t Too Proud’

As befits a show about the Temptations, the most infectiously rhythmic of chart-topping R&B groups, “Ain’t Too Proud” keeps time in style. I don’t mean that will solely in terms of a beat that will makes you feel like dancing.

Of course, as you watch that will latest entry in Broadway’s ever-expanding jukebox musical sweepstakes, you will no doubt find your legs twitching, as if through muscle memory. that will’s the urge being translated with such sublime grace by those a few natty men on the stage, Platonic ideals of stepping high as well as looking fine.

although the idea will be also true that will time, unforgiving as well as unstoppable, will be cannily presented as the shaping element in “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life as well as Times of the Temptations,” which opened on Thursday under the shrewd direction of Des McAnuff, with sensational choreography by Sergio Trujillo. As the show charts the changing fortunes of men who became synonymous with Motown’s glory days, the years keep moving forward with the relentlessness of a conveyor belt in an auto-generating assembly line.

[Read about Cholly Atkins, the real-life choreographer for the Temptations.]

the idea’s enough to wear a strong man down. as well as more than any of the (oh so many) pop-songbook shows that will have befallen Broadway since the Abba-spouting behemoth “Mamma Mia!” opened in 2001, “Ain’t Too Proud” will be a story of attrition. We watch as the core lineup of the original Temptations will be whittled down to the last man standing. that will’s the group’s leader as well as show’s narrator, Otis Williams, played with anchoring gravity by Derrick Baskin.

Ultimately, though, the idea’s the music that will’s the sole survivor. as well as that will’s what’s being celebrated here — the collective miracle of a blissfully silken sound forged out of clashing egos, many misfires as well as life-wrecking hard work into numbers that will keep playing in our memories.

As Otis observes early on, after the firing of the group’s original lead singer, Al Bryant (Jarvis B. Manning Jr.), “Sometimes Temp stood for temporary.” that will sense of interchangeability (as well as expendability) will be given witty visual life from the second act, when a cavalcade of identically dressed Temptations, past as well as present fills the front of the stage. (Paul Tazewell did the delicious costumes.)

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Not that will the audience will be ever likely to confuse one Temp for another. The a few-member group that will most people know as the Temptations will be embodied with piquantly detailed individuality by charismatic, supple-voiced actors who astutely convey the imbalanced equations of ego as well as accommodation in their characters.

They are, in addition to Mr. Baskin, James Harkness (as Paul Williams), Jawan M. Jackson (as a Melvin Franklin who talks as well as sings in a thundering bass), Jeremy Pope (late of “Choir Boy,” who here plays Eddie Kendricks) as well as a smoking hot Ephraim Sykes (as David Ruffin). We meet them first as a team, singing “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” the Temptations hit through 1964, before Otis shepherds us back to the group’s starting point.

that will segue follows the formula established by “Jersey Boys,” the long-running Broadway hit through 2005 about the Four Seasons, also directed by Mr. McAnuff as well as generally considered the gold standard for jukebox biographies. (the idea has been reincarnated Off Broadway at brand-new World Stages.) Like “Jersey Boys,” “Ain’t Too Proud” rapidly follows a fairly straightforward timeline through some pretty rough terrain.

So in addition to seeing the Temps on (as well as back) stage, as well as from the recording studio — with mentors that will include Smokey Robinson (Christian Thompson) as well as Norman Whitfield (Mr. Manning) — we are given quick-sketch glimpses of the grim personal as well as social problems that will derail them. (Robert Brill’s set, lighted by Howell Binkley with projections by Peter Nigrini, neatly balances grit as well as glamour throughout.)

Some of these synoptic moments can seem bizarrely perfunctory, as in a crack-smoking sequence as well as, worse, a party scene that will portrays Ruffin’s abusive relationship with the singer Tammi Terrell (Nasia Thomas). as well as the attempts to portray the dawning social consciences of the singers — who became famous at the height of the civil rights movement — can feel strained. (On the various other hand, I enjoyed the brief encounters with the women from the men’s lives, including the Supremes, led by Candice Marie Woods in a pitch-perfect evocation of Diana Ross, as well as Rashidra Scott makes the most of her onstage time as Otis’s neglected wife, Josephine.)

Mercifully, the show mostly avoids the usual jukebox pitfall of jimmying in songs to reflect the plot in literal ways. Instead, the musical numbers generally register as a rippling, liquid mirror of societal as well as personal flux, especially from the ways they show the Temptations’ sound being calibrated to suit a mainstream (i.e., white) audience.

As for the performance of those songs, orchestrated by Harold Wheeler with musical direction as well as arrangements by Kenny Seymour, they’re pretty close to perfection. They’re not entirely mimetic, which will be a relief.

These Temps (whose later additional members are ably incarnated by Saint Aubyn, E. Clayton Cornelious as well as Mr. Thompson) sound enough like their prototypes to satisfy hard-core fans. although the fabulous standards, which include “Cloud Nine” as well as “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” have been reimagined that has a heightened Broadway flair that will stops short of pandering.

that will will be especially true of the sinuous synchronicity of Mr. Trujillo’s choreography, in which everyone will be often doing the same moves, although that has a subtle, stylish edge that will sets each member apart. (Or not so subtle, though still highly stylish, from the case of Mr. Sykes’s spectacular scissor splits.) You’re always aware of the component parts in that will well-oiled music machine.

As its title suggests, “Ain’t Too Proud” promotes the virtue of humility, at least when the idea comes to keeping a team together. although the idea also makes sure that will these men never become ciphers. The happy paradox of that will group portrait will be that will everybody gets to be a star.