AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS
If you’re in Southern California, and have time to see only one show this holiday season, you must make it Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations at the Ahmanson Theatre. I have rarely, if ever, seen so much incredible talent on one stage in my entire life! (And I saw this same musical the first time it ran here, four years ago, so that’s saying something!)
In case you don’t get the premise from the says-it-all title, I’ll break it down for you further. Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations is the true story of one of the all-time great musical acts, The Temptations, a version of which is still going strong, many decades after their creation by still-member Otis Williams. (More on him in a minute.) If you’re the one person on earth who’s not familiar with the group, it does not matter at all to your enjoyment of this show—it’s fascinating on every level! (There’s so much to say about it, as a matter of fact, that this just might be the longest review I’ve ever written. So put it aside for a second and order your tickets to the show right now! And then come back and finish reading it, of course.)
I can’t imagine anyone, of any age, not loving Ain’t Too Proud, but my view of the show is colored a bit by my having known two of the originals and four of the next gen Temps back in the day, and heard them sing live from time to time. (After so many years, I still can’t believe how fortunate I am to have interacted with so many of the real people portrayed in this show. In addition to the Temps, I’ve also met Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy several times each. And FYI–Smokey is especially darling.)
Too long a story for this space, but I actually opened for the Temps (with the Four Tops,) a long time ago, when I was doing my TV show. I had never done stand-up before, but I desperately wanted to meet my younger-self heroes, and to also introduce my boyfriend, (and my ex-boyfriend, as well,) to the guys, so when I was asked to open for them, I accepted the gig, all the while knowing the high potential for embarrassment. It was indeed terrifying, but each and every artist among them could not have been nicer to me.
After that, I was lucky enough to be included at some of their recording sessions, which are memories I cherish to this day. I became closest to Melvin Franklin, possibly because he and I had a running joke about my assistant adoring his version of Old Man River so much. He even invited me to a party at his house! I loved that it was not really a show biz soiree—it was more of a big family get-together, which I was honored to be a tiny part of that night.
In the current day, I was thrilled to have a mini-reunion with Temptations founder, (and one of the Executive Producers of Ain’t Too Proud,) Otis Williams, during intermission on opening night. Since he’s the person who put the group together, and has always been their glue, it’s sort-of fitting that, at eighty-one years of age and still performing, he’s outlasted all of the original Temps. Towards the end of the show, his character even says, “I thought my brothers would live forever, but the only thing that lives forever is music.”
The opening night audience got a real treat when Otis and the group’s longtime manager, Shelley Berger, came out on stage for the curtain call. Otis told us, “I’m eighty-one, and I still dance like I’m twenty-one!,” to which Shelley amusingly announced, “I’m eighty-four, and I dance like I’m ninety-one!” Both received rapturous applause.
Now on to the musical itself. I had considered being lazy, and just copying parts of my *review that I wrote four years ago upon the show’s original triumph here, before it moved to Broadway, (where it received a dozen Tony nods and a win for Best Choreography,) but I viewed this production with fresh eyes, (and better seats!,) so it deserves to be written about on its own merits. It’s still the same wonderful musical, but this National Tour of Ain’t Too Proud features a whole new cast, (which I deem to be even better than the original, if I have to compare.) *[Note: If you’d like to read that first review, (when you finish this one, of course,) because they’re actually very different from each other, here’s that link: itsnotaboutme.tv/news/theatre-aint-too-proud-the-life-and-times-of-the-temptations.]
Every single performer in this huge cast is beyond excellent, but I’m absolutely in love with two of the actors. (So is the friend I brought. And we rarely agree on anything!)
First of all, I went berserk over Dwayne P. Mitchell, who plays Dennis Edwards. OMG, is he fabulous!!! But he looks and sings more like Dennis’ replacement in the group, Ali-Ollie Woodson, (more on him later on,) than he does Dennis, which is a supreme compliment from me; Ali is one of my top two singers I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear in person! I’ve never compared anyone to him before. On top of Dwayne’s singing and dancing perfection, I could not tear my eyes away from his fascinating and beautiful hands. Now I want to see him perform in concert as himself sometime.
While Dwayne was the star of the second half of the show for us, Brett Michael Lockley, as Al Bryant, (a Temptation I had never heard of before this show, because that was waaaay before my time,) stole Act I. Man, does that guy have the voice, the moves, and the energy! He’s another one I could have listened to on his own all night.
Another stand-out for the entire opening night audience was Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks. During the whole show, I was thinking that he must have played Michael Jackson at some point in his career, but it turns-out he has not. Perhaps that starring role is in his future.
His Just My Imagination brought down the house. That adoration was a tad strange for me, though, because I never really got into that song. But a woman at intermission saw me talking to Otis for that little bit, and asked me to tell him, (if ever I see him again,) just what that song means to her. She was almost crying telling me about it.
And I so admire Marcus Paul James, who plays Otis himself, because I believe he’s never off stage, (unless it’s for a tiny minute that I don’t remember,) and dances and sings more than anyone else while also guiding the audience through the entire narrative!!! And on opening night, he didn’t put even one syllable wrong! What a Herculean effort!
For those of you who are not as familiar with the Temptin’ Temptations as I am, there have been twenty-five Temps to date! Of course, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations can’t tell us the story of every single one of them, but they tell us of the main members. Well, almost. Let me explain.
As I did the first time I saw this show four years ago, I’m still scratching my head over the glaring omissions of the aforementioned Ali-Ollie Woodson and Ron Tyson. Ron is still in the group! He’s been a Temptation for thirty-nine years, making him the second-longest-tenured Temp to Otis, so that particular exclusion is just mind-boggling to me.
On top of that, even though they feature Dennis Edwards in one scene, they make just one tiny mention of that it’s him! His first name is finally said quite a bit into his appearance in the show, and then when they list some of the members a bit later on, they finally say his last name. I wonder what’s up with that. (I think that in real life, he and the group may have ended on a bad note—no pun intended–but he’s deceased now, so why diss him at this point?)
Aside from those peccadilloes, this is how excellent this show is: Having barely any sleep the night before the opening, I was exhausted by the time I had to leave for the theatre. So I was worried about how I was going to make it through this very long show. But once Ain’t Too Proud began, I never gave my exhaustion another thought. And the time just flew by! Even though it’s a pretty long presentation, it’s tight. There’s not a wasted second anywhere.
From the very first song, I was kind of wishing the show was a sing-along, because, trust me, it was very hard to not join in. (But the audience members around me that night were uber-lucky I did not!) There are at least snippets of over two dozen classic songs from not just the Temptations’ catalog, but also ones from the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Jimmy Ruffin, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Cadillacs, Edwin Starr, and even the Five Satins. You’ll recognize most, if not all, of the tunes if you’re a fan of any of the artists, or are of a certain age, or listen to oldies stations, which are the best things on the radio!
And there is so much more, and more energetic, dancing in the show than I remember the real guys doing. But since dance is my favorite art, I really appreciate all the incredible choreography, for which Sergio Trujillo won the Tony! The main actors must all lose ten pounds a night! (Hey, maybe I should start doing those steps! Except there’s no maybe about it.)
I had heard there were some changes to the show since its first run here, so I couldn’t wait to see if they incorporated any of my suggestions from back then to make it a tad better. But, sadly, they didn’t take any of them. The most helpful one would be to show the dates of each action on the back screen; when I mentioned that idea to several people I met that night, they agreed that a timeline would be helpful, especially to audience members who aren’t as familiar with every second of the Temps’ history as I am!
Nonetheless, when the four-person mic stand finally came out on the stage, I got all choked-up.
I had the great fortune to see the Temptations’ Reunion Tour when I was just a young ‘un, and let me tell you–it’s the best concert I have ever seen in my life! So this show really had a lot to live up to in my eyes. Yes, of course this is not the actual Temptations, but the songs, performances, dances, and story are all amazing. The opening night audience was going nuts with just about every note sung! (But I was shocked that I was the only person bopping to the music in the entire front orchestra! How was that even possible?! What is wrong with everybody???)
Towards the end of the show, the character of Otis states, “You can’t move backwards, as much as you’d like to,” to which he then adds, (and this one I’m paraphrasing,) “The only thing you can rewind is music.” And that’s exactly what audiences will do forever, both to the Temptations original songs and the cast album of this incredible musical.
What a perfect holiday treat Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations is, either for yourself or as a gift. It’s also a lovely way to end 2022. So do yourselves a favor and do not miss it!
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations running through January 1, 2023
Ahmanson Theatre 135 N. Grand Ave.