AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS
Do the “Temptations Walk,” but as a run, right on over to the Ahmanson Theatre to see this fabulous musical about the tempting Temptations before it leaves Los Angeles for Broadway! You’re not going to have to worry about being “too proud to beg”* someone to go with you–everyone will want to see this one! *[Note: I promise—that’s the last goony reference to one of their song titles, although I could probably write this review with just their whole prolific catalog. And I actually did, with Mr. X when he and I got punchy. But, luckily for you guys, I decided to spare you.]
I have never experienced such a fabulously noisy, enthusiastic, happy standing ovation at the end of an opening night as I did with this one. It felt wonderful to be a part of it. And I was thrilled that the cheering drowned out my very loud sobs at the emotion of it all. The Temps are my all-time favorite R&B group, and apparently everyone else’s, as well, judging by the audience reaction.
I could not take my attention away from the stage for even a nano-second to jot down any notes for this review, so I’m sure I’ll be leaving-out a lot of what went through my mind that night. I had actually assumed that this would be the easiest review to write, ever, because I love the subject matter so much, but there are so many marvelous aspects to this show that I’ll have a very difficult job narrowing it all down for you. So, just trust me when I say that I can’t imagine there being anyone who won’t love Ain’t Too Proud.
It’s the story of the formation of the Motown group the Temptations, and their journey to, and with, fame in the music business. That’s all you need to know.
As background on my part, the greatest concert I have ever seen in my whole life is the Temptations Reunion many years ago. The Greek Theatre people were very good to me back then, so Mr. X and I had front row seats for that bit of history. All the living Temps to that point participated, and it was truly amazing, (a word I very rarely use, and only when it’s warranted.) So I was worried that Ain’t Too Proud would be disappointing to us, after having that incredible memory. But this new musical is fantastic! I screamed and cried and hooped and hollered like I was seeing the real group. And so did the entire assemblage.
These actors may not be the real dudes, but they certainly are the real deals. Every person on that Ahmanson stage can sing his or her butt off! And they all dance and act as terrifically as they sing, and everybody’s funny, to boot. (I hate to say it, but these guys dance way better than the actual Temps members ever did!) I kept wondering where all these uber-talented performers have been until now, until I read their bios in the program, and was blown away by all of their outstanding credits!
It was so great to hear all the iconic songs in the Temptations catalogue performed so close to the original versions. I was grateful they didn’t try to “Broadway-ize” them! And the band made them all sound perfect. What incredible musicians this show has!
There were over thirty songs, or at least parts of them, most performed as the group’s actual numbers, but some inserted into the narrative instead. Most are the Temps’ hits, but there are also some from the Supremes, and a few from other groups and performers, as well. Mr. X, a doo-wopper from way back, really appreciated the little bit of the Cadillacs’ Gloria.
The audience went especially nuts when Rashidra Scott, playing Otis Williams’ wife, Josephine, sang If You Don’t Know Me By Now. I thought a guy behind me was going to have a heart attack over it! But it was weird—the song just stopped short in the middle, just as she was getting going. (Several others did that, too, which was sort-of frustrating. But I understand the time constraints of a production such as this one. Jukebox musicals portraying groups with an abundance of famous music can’t give us everything they’ve ever done.)
This is how special this show is—even the opening night audience members who are too young to remember the Temptations’ heyday were going wild! It’s a show to be taken on its own merit, even though it is a historical tale.
Speaking of history, even though I wasn’t around for their early days, I have done so much research on the Temps over the years, for various reasons, so I know that most of what is portrayed on stage is the true story of the group. So many stage and film presentations embellish the truth, but this saga has enough real-life drama that nothing has to be made up. (And we’re not even getting all of it! So maybe someday we’ll get to see the sequel, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg…Again.)
I’m thrilled for the founder of the group, Otis Williams, (who’s the first and last of the original members,) because Ain’t Too Proud is all due to him; he put the group together in the first place, and was their guiding force throughout, and then he wrote the book this musical is based on. (And when I knew them way back when, I always had the feeling that he would be the last original Temptation standing.)
Here’s something I found interesting about this show—we fans don’t usually think of performers as having families, especially back then without the way-too-much info we get nowadays. I know in the case of the Temptations, I didn’t consider that aspect until I went to Melvin Franklin’s house for a party. (That will be explained in the bonus story after this review.) But this show highlights Otis’ family a bit, which humanizes the entire scenario somewhat. Actually, his personal history is the only one portrayed in this tale, (outside of a tiny bit about David Ruffins’ tumultuous relationship with adorable singer Tammi Terrell,) but Otis deserves that extra bit of biography because of everything I listed in the previous paragraph.
As the show moves along on a minimally decorated stage, (because nothing more is needed,) there are plenty of projections which help set the scenes. Those were excellent, but I wish they had put the dates of the action on there every now and then. That would really be helpful to people who don’t have a crazy detailed memory such as moi. And even I was a tad confused at times.
Just in case you’re a stickler for all things Temptations, as I am, here are the only few disappointments to me about the whole show, but even they did not take away from my enjoyment—they were just puzzlements to me:
~ They did not do, nor is there even a mention of, the very famous Temptations Walk!!! Mr. X and I waited the whole show for it! We had to do it ourselves in the parking lot afterwards to get it out of our systems.
~ Very longtime, and still current, Temp Ron Tyson, was totally left-out of the narrative! How is that even possible, when he’s been a very big part of the group for thirty-five years, and is the only later-wave member who’s still with us?!
~ They did not do a mini-concert at the end, as is done in Jersey Boys, (which is also about a famous singing group, circa the same era, if you’ve been living under a rock. And the shows share the same director!) Since Otis Williams was in the audience on opening night, he could have even sung with them! (And he definitely should have been brought-up onstage, no matter what! That was a major miss for this production, in my opinion.) A mini-concert would be the perfect ending for Ain’t Too Proud, so perhaps after reading this, they’ll add that bit for Broadway. (And then invite me to the opening, of course, for coming up with the idea!)
~ And lastly, this is the worst one to me: They left-out my favorite singer ever, the incredible Ali-Ollie Woodson!!! That is an egregious omission! Ali took over as lead singer after Dennis Edwards, and re-invigorated the group. Mr. X and I were shocked that they even found him back then, because his voice and soul totally aligned with the original group. But, in defense of Ain’t Too Proud, Mr. X and I both said, separately, (because he never listens to me when I say something, so he said it a few minutes after I did, like it was a new idea,) the omission was probably because they could not find anyone to even come close to singing like Ali—that guy was a one-of-a-kind talent who sang with every fibre of his being. I had the extreme good fortune of seeing him perform right up next to him one time, and let me tell you–it was a religious experience.
I have to be honest and say that this show does get a tad wordy towards the end, and they could definitely shave at least ten minutes off the whole thing. Or, even better, use that time for the aforementioned mini-concert!
But even with these small issues, Ain’t Too Proud is a real winner, on every level. In addition to the terrific tunes, there’s a lot of humor in the show. The only thing that would have made it better, (for only me, of course,) is if they had a cute young actress portraying me when I opened for them, once upon a time! (That little tale will be at the end of this review, after the show’s info, for those of you who are saying, “Whaaat?!,” including the surviving Temps themselves!!!) And they certainly had room for that bit in the show since they left-out Ali and Ron!
Getting back to being serious, Ain’t Too Proud is a show that I feel can be seen multiple times, and something new will be discovered each go-round. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and is theatre at its most excellent. So, Get Ready to be on Cloud Nine for this non-Ball of Confusion that will have you saying I Could Never Love Another show like I love this one. It’s not Just My Imagination that you’ll be as much of a fan as I am. But don’t rush it because You Can’t Hurry Love. Okay, If You Don’t Know Me By Now, I have to tell you that I’m Gonna Make You Love Me by stopping writing these puns. And For Once In My Life I’m going to finally end this before it gets too long, (although I’m sure that that ship has sailed!)
Ain’t Too Proud running through September 30, 2018
Ahmanson Theatre 135 N. Grand Ave. 213-972-4400 www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
As promised above, here’s my personal story with the Temps. (If you’d rather see me speak it on my YouTube channel, click here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajpTUWJySe0. But you should really read it, as well, because the two platforms contain a bit different info.)
Many, many years ago, when I was doing my local L.A. TV series, Karen’s Restaurant Revue, the guy who booked the acts for the Beverly Theatre in Beverly Hills called me and asked me to open for Aretha Franklin! (Wow—I had not even realized how full circle this story has come!) Thinking he was kidding, because I was not (and still am not) a stand-up comedian, I semi-jokingly replied, “No thank you, but do you have the Temptations?” And to my shock, he answered, “Yes, with the Four Tops! Would you like to open for them, too?” Knowing stand-up was not my forte, (since I had never done it before,) I said, “Not Aretha—just the guys.” And…I did!
I was subsequently booked on The Tonight Show for the same date of the premiere night of my four-shows-in-two-nights Temps/Tops gig, so this was my most incredible career week-end ever (which is what JLo’s daily life must be like): Tape my appearance on The Tonight Show, (which the producers, etc., were very happy with, if I do say so myself,) then rush back to Beverly Hills to open two shows with the Temps and Tops, come home and watch myself with Johnny Carson, (which was my dream come true,) and then two more shows with the Temps and Tops the next night.
I was dreadful as an opening act, of course, but the embarrassment was sooo worth it! I got to meet, and hang with, these guys I had adored and revered since childhood! And because of me, Mr. X got to meet these groups he loved, too. And my ex-beau, Omar, had the thrill of announcing me with his Melvin Franklin-esque deep voice. And forty of my best friends got comped tickets for this fabulous show! That’s a win for everyone, even non-stand-up-comedian moi. I wound-up knowing the Temps for years after, going to every show they did in LA, and even attending some of their private album recording sessions! I was honored when Melvin Franklin invited me to that party at his house that I referenced above!
So, that’s why this show, Ain’t Too Proud, is even more special to me than all the others I’ve ever reviewed. But, even without a nutty story like mine, I’m confidant that you will all go gaga over it.