Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations Takes Audiences to the Famous Group's Career Highs and Lows Through Amazing Vocals and Powerful Choreography

Currently Playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre Until Sunday, January 8 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

(L – R)- Marcus Paul James, Jalen Harris, Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Harrell Holmes Jr., James T. Lane from the National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud.
Credit © 2021 Emilio Madrid.
I get the "jukebox musical" description, although I have never been a fan of it. In my eyes, it devalues the work limiting it to just a bunch of catchy songs playing and it is so much more than that. It is diving and sharing the momentum in which those songs were born, what was happening, who was in the room, and of course, the drama. 

Broadway San Diego opened the theatre year with the touring production of Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, taking audiences to Detroit where the group led by Otis Williams originated during the sixties, Motown, Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, and all that creative magic.

This musical's history like many blockbuster hits, originated in California in 2017, with music and lyrics by The Temptations, a book by Dominique Morisseau, and directed by Des McAnuff. The show starts out -literally- with a musical explosion full of amazing vocals and choreography followed by quintet founder Otis Williams (Michael Andreaus) narrating the story. There is also a discovery factor with these types of pieces because fan or not, you have listened to the songs. Hence, there are surprises and reactions where audiences go "that's right! they sing that song" or "of course, it was well known he had a drug addiction" which makes the experience even juicier. 

(L – R)  - Traci Elaine Lee, Deri’Andra Tucker, Shayla Brielle G. from the National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud.
Credit © 2021 Emilio Madrid.

Robert Brill's scenic design consisting of moving platforms, a recreation of the Motown Records offices and recording studio illustrate the narration smoothly along with Peter Nigrini's projection design that give the show that "on the road", "in concert" feel as well as accenting rough moments like MLK Jr's assassination. Paul Tazewell's costume design not only recreates the fashion of the different decades starting with the sixties, but the wardrobe used for iconic TV presentations, tours, and so on. Perfection.

The scenic interaction between "Temp" (as they call the group) members is exciting and full of interpretation, histrionics, and powerful vocals. Elbridge "Al" Bryant (Brett Michael Lockley, who is also the show's dance captain), Melvin Franklin (interpreted by swing Jamari Johnson Williams), Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris), Paul Williams (E. Clayton Cornelious), David Ruffin (played by Dwayne P. Mitchell in the performance I saw) and Dennis Edwards (played by swing Melvin Gray Jr. in the performance I saw). I am always in awww when swings and understudies step in and in this performance, slaying those roles. I would like to assume that the nasty cold that is going around that is not COVID, not the flu and God knows what hit this company like many and as well as weather changes, travels, and vacations had to do the shuffle-ball-change like the life in the performing arts goes. All the members in this company are practically flawless bringing their flare to the roles and delivering amazing artistry.

Brett Michael Lockley as well as supervising the powerful moves the show carries pulls his vocal weight as well, swing Jamari Johnson Williams who stepped in for Harrell Holmes Jr as Melvin was fun, funny, and just striking with those profound, low, base vocals. Never heard something as low be that good! Jalen Harris as group ruffler Eddie Kendricks was out of this world with a fantastic voice, high notes, strong moves, and an even stronger interpretation. I observed he struggled a bit maybe due to cold because you could get the congestion but that did not stop Kendricks who not also portrays being -in the now- vibes while being onstage but also enjoying being onstage and that is always wonderful to see. E. Clayton Cornelious as Paul Williams gifts audiences with charm and amazing, impressive moves. Dwayne P. Mitchell stepped in for Elijah Ahmad Lewis as the ego-centered and demon-filled David Ruffin, battled it out with Eddie Kendricks in both vocals and choreography and I too felt that he was struggling with congestion. You know I notice these random things guys. Melvin Gray Jr. stepped in for Dwaine P. Mitchell who was playing David Ruffin in this performance, to give life to Dennis Edwards also very fun to watch, funny, and with a great, powerful voice.

(L – R) - Harrell Holmes Jr., Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Jalen Harris, Marcus Paul James, James T. Lane from the National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud. Credit © 2021 Emilio Madrid.

The women in the company are fantastic Shayla Brielle G., Quiana Onrae’l Holmes, Traci Elaine Lee, Amber Mariah Talley, and Nazarria Workman playing from managers to baby mamma's to The Supremes group members and other Motown recording artists to driving a Cadillac in the middle of the stage, also displaying amazing choreography and preparation. I liked how they alternate different roles regardless of gender. That always makes it fun.

The touring orchestra played with San Diego musicians bringing a wonderful collaboration. Another cool thing in the music department is that actor Reed Campbell who plays manager Shelly Berger, also plays the piano in some parts with the orchestra, grand entrance, and all. Pretty original and cool to watch.

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, is definitely one that should not be missed. Currently playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre until Sunday, January 8th. For performance times and ticket prices please click here.

Other creative team members include Howell Binkley (lighting design), Steve Canyon Kennedy (sound design), Charles G. LaPointe (hair and wig design), Steve Rankin (fight direction), Edgar Godineaux (associate choreographer), John Miller (music coordinator), and Liz Caplan (vocal supervision). Orchestrations are by Tony Award recipient Harold Wheeler, with Music Direction and Arrangements by Kenny Seymour.

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