Ain’t Too Proud, celebrating The Temptations’ music that will live forever

Ephraim Sykes, Jawan M Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, and James Harkness in AIN'T TOO PROUD. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Ephraim Sykes, Jawan M Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, and James Harkness in AIN'T TOO PROUD. Photo by Matthew Murphy. /

As the first note travels across the theater, the audience instantly knows the song. While that circumstance often guides the premise of many jukebox musicals, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations are more than just a compilation of well-known R&B songs. It implores the audience to appreciate that music connects people in meaningful ways.

Spanning numerous decades, The Temptations can be considered R&B royalty and possibly Motown’s most successful group. While the founding members may no longer take the stage, their music continues to play, and new group members lend their voices to those iconic songs.

From classics like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” to “My Girl,” those songs have become part of the pop culture collective. Even if some people may not be able to name the group, the reality is that the lyrics are always on the tip of their tongue.

While people may be able to name that tune in a few notes, the trials and tribulations of the men behind that iconic sound may not be as well known. As this musical tells the story from Otis Williams’ point of view, one theme weaves its way throughout the story. Since the whole is greater than the parts, it is the music that endures far longer than the drama lingering beneath the surface.

Throughout Ain’t Too Proud, the struggles of fame, family issues and just getting along pepper the musical score with nuance. Even though some people might appreciate how one Temptation was replaced by another, other nuggets of information might be revelations. From the group, initial dislike of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” to the fact that they almost recorded the protest song “War,” that peek behind the music intrigues.

Ain't Too Proud The Life and Times of The Temptations musical
(L-R) Derrick Baskin, Jelani Remy, Jawan M Jackson, Ephraim Sykes, and James Harkness in AIN’T TOO PROUD. Photo by Matthew Murphy. /

In addition, the carefully constructed image and song choice showcased the struggle for the Motown group as it traversed difficult times. Trying to achieve that cross-over status without alienating an audience segment was more tenuous for them than it is today.

Still, at the heart of Ain’t Too Proud is a wonderfully constructed blend of music, story, and dance. While some people might recall the Temptations’ smooth moves, the Tony Award-winning choreography is exuberant and has the audience mesmerized by the exacting precision.

Currently on a National Tour, and playing at Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando, Ain’t Too Proud not only provides theater-goers with an evening of entertainment but also implores the audience to appreciate the simple concept that music can and does, live forever. Even if the person singing the song changes, the foundation’s strength allows it to remain.

Playing Otis Williams, the last Temptation from the original five, Marcus Paul James is the heart of the show. He might not have the biggest numbers, but he is the soul that connects them all.

From one of his first lines, as he invokes Langston Hughes to his sadness over his son’s death, the audience longs for his happiness. Sometimes flawed, but rooted in conviction, James expertly invites the audience to become part of the story. From feeling his exasperation to longing for his success, that emotional arc endears him to everyone in attendance.

In contrast, Elijah Ahamd Lewis, as David Ruffin, has the audience cheering for that empathic spotlight moment yet frustrated when ego looks to overshadow the best interests of the group. Lewis’ tone and inflection paired with his energic dancing make his portrayal mesmerizing. Even if people cannot understand how one person can let fame overshadow the collective, that little glimpse of a man who just wants to be included is just beneath the surface.

Overall, the entire cast of the National Tour of Ain’t Too Proud gives life to the songs that are etched in the collective songbook. Although the audience should let the performers hit all the right notes, there is plenty of clapping and foot-tapping to be enjoyed. As the audience leaves the theater, the smiles are brighter, the mood is lighter and the music continues to be enjoyed another day.

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Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Time of The Temptations is currently on a National Tour. After stopping at Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando, it has tour dates scheduled through the end of 2022.