(L-R) Harrell Holmes Jr., Jalen Harris, Elijah Ahmad Lewis, E. Clayton Cornelious, and Michael Andreaus from the National Touring Company of Ain't Too Proud. Credit 2023 Emilio Madrid.
When the musical group now known as The Temptations made it big in the 1960s, they changed the music scene forever. What they didn’t know, however, was that their newfound careers would also change them and the entire trajectory of their lives. Such is the premise behind Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, which opened at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night.
The jukebox-style musical features a pulls-no-punches book, based on Otis Williams’ The Temptations, by Dominique Morisseau and skilled direction by Des McAnuff. And, then, of course, there’s the music. With its inspired, classic music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog, watching Ain’t Too Proud feels like traveling back in time and landing in a place where the music was full of soul and the stakes were high.
Viewers get to watch as Temptations founder Otis Williams (Michael Andreaus) evolves from a troubled boy with a dream to a talented man with a plan. In tandem, they also witness the group’s evolution. This fast-paced but never frenzied musical shows every stop and struggle on the Temptations’ path to success. From new names to new members, no milestone is left unturned or unexplored. The script also doesn’t shy away from the group’s toughest truths, including David Ruffin’s (Elijah Ahmad Lewis) battle with drugs and demons from the past and the horrific racial injustices these young musicians faced. Indeed, the musical’s willingness to confront hard topics head-on is one of its many strengths.
Backed by a cast that writhes with energy and exudes joy, this production fully immerses you in The Temptations’ world and plants you firmly in their corner. Andreaus’ Otis is cheerful, relatable, and undeniably real as he narrates the show and guides viewers on this frantic, up-and-down journey. He’s backed by Harrell Holmes Jr. as a deep-voiced, super serious Melvin Franklin, E. Clayton Cornelious as Paul Williams, Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, and an unending stream of talented performers with voices that strike chords in the soul. These performers, in turn, are backed by the incredible, uniting force that is Sergio Trujillo’s choreography. From shape-shifting dance moves to fast pirouettes and smooth, slow motions, he breathes new life into familiar songs and creates characterization through movement.
Dazzling dance moves aside, this production is about so much more than glitz, glamor, or even music. It’s a story about brotherhood, how the past impacts the present, and what we can gain when we let go of fear and dare to defy the odds. Funny, inspiring, and deeply touching, this is one show you won’t want to miss.
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