'AIN'T TOO PROUD': The Life and Times of The Temptations THE NATIONAL TOURING COMPANY
Now onstage until December 17 at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto
Credit: Emilio Madrid. Pictured l-r: Michael Andreaus, Jalen Harris, Harrell Holmes Jr., Elijah Ahmad Lewis, E. Clayton Cornelious
'Triple-threat ensemble performances earn a VOICE CHOICE for this uber-chic-looking touring production.'
Occasionally, when you come across a show that features triple threat performances, you want to share your thoughts with others and encourage them to go to the theatre.
This is one of those times.
Principal narrator Otis Williams (Michael Andreaus) tells how The Temptations came to be on its journey from the Detroit streets to Motown Records and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We’re introduced to how each member initially met and how they skyrocketed to fame and coped with the incredible heights they hit in their recordings.
However, personal conflicts, drug/alcohol dependency and egos threaten the group's progress, heightened by civil unrest in the US in the 60s and 70s. Along this road to show business fame, key recording individuals also appear who leave a tremendous impact on the group – from Smokey Robinson (an excellent sounding Derek Adams) and Berry Gordy (a striking Jeremy Kelsey) to Diana Ross (Amber Mariah Talley), Florence Ballard (Shayla Brielle G.) and Mary Wilson (Brittny Smith) whose vocals on ‘Baby Love’ is joyful sounding.
‘Ain’t Too Proud’ remains similar to ‘The Jersey Boys’ that played in Toronto many years ago. Both stories focus on the rise to fame of two groups, from the streets to number one on the charts. Both incorporate a short concert moment – in this touring production, some highlights include ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone,’ ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ and ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.’ Similar personal and familial conflicts and troubles also wreaked havoc in both groups.
What remains most telling about this touring production is the predominant and gritty social awareness of the Civil Rights movement that anchors the story. For example, the death of Martin Luther King Jr. holds a particular prominence, as it rightly should. Peter Nigrini’s sometimes striking black-and-white projection designs decisively set the era's tone of the late 60s.
Directed with style and class by Des McAnuff, this touring production of Dominique Mousseau’s book holds a sleek and refined visual look courtesy of Robert Brill’s set design and Paul Tazewell’s mighty fine-looking ‘60s fashion. The structural and mechanical workings keep the show’s pacing moving at top speed without appearing rushed. Howell Binkley’s refined lighting design suitably focuses attention where needed. Spotlit moments where some actors break the fourth wall and talk to the audience remain visually pleasing. Sound Designer Steve Canyon Kennedy has paid meticulous attention to ensure the lyrics of the songs can be heard. He has succeeded, and I wish to acknowledge how important that is, especially for the musical moments in a jukebox musical like this one.
Sergio Trujillo’s zip-tight synchronous choreographed movement captures that same sense of style and class as McAnuff’s direction. Every finger point or leg movement is precise and tight and soundly brings to life the Temptations’ signature moves. Kenny Seymour’s Music Supervision and Arrangements with Harold Wheeler’s orchestrations credibly replicate the unique musical sound of the group – two prominent examples were ‘In the Still of the Night’ and ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).’
The accomplished onstage performance ensemble work earns this ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ a VOICE CHOICE.
Michael Andreaus remains a compelling storyteller as Otis Williams. He has that ‘it’ of connecting with the audience at the top of the show. Andreaus remains grounded and entirely in control of his emotional peaks and valleys in his conversations with the group members or his wife Josephine (Quiana Onrae’l Holmes), who remains the dutiful wife at home, raising the children while Otis tours with the group. The moment Otis speaks with his grown elder son Lamont (Felander), who has other things on his mind, is quite poignant. Otis realizes how much time has passed and how he has missed his son becoming a man.
E. Clayton Cornelious (Paul Williams), Harrell Holmes, Jr. (Melvin Franklin), Jalen Harris (Eddie Kendricks), Devin Price (Al Bryant), later replaced by Elijah Ahmad Lewis (David Ruffin) and Derek Adams (Richard Street) deliver nuanced and sensitive performances of character depth and genuine emotion about their places within the group and how each sees the future ahead. Intense conversations never become histrionic as tempers flare. They’re all marvellous dancers who can spin, pirouette, and do the splits while seamlessly moving into place to finish the song.
Once again, thanks to McAnuff’s controlled direction, I could keep clear who each singer was along with their backstory. I had forgotten about the story that the Supremes were formed as the sister group of The Temptations. At one point during a televised NBC broadcast in Act Two, McAnuff has the actors placed on stage in an intriguing juxtaposition to showcase the power and reach of these two Motown iconic sounds. Watching this intriguing picture and hearing them vocalize became an inspirational moment of the show. Although I was too young to recall that broadcast, this production finely replicated what I’m assuming to be a televised moment that will never be forgotten.
One Final Thought: This ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ is a cornucopia of outstanding harmony work from the entire company coupled with real-life, sensitive individual performances of those who, through their weaknesses and troubles, truly wanted what they thought was the best for the group and everyone involved.
Please try and catch this show before it leaves. It is one that must be experienced live.
Running time: approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
‘Ain’t Too Proud’- The Life and Times of the Temptations runs until December 17 at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.
‘AIN’T TOO PROUD’ – The Life and Times of The Temptations.
The National Touring Company
Book by Dominique Mousseau
Based on the Book ‘The Temptations by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski’
Music and Lyrics by the Legendary Motown Catalog
Directed by Des McAnuff
Music Supervision and Arrangements by Kenny Seymour with Orchestrations by Harold Wheeler
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Scenic Design: Robert Brill
Costume Design: Paul Tazewell
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Sound Design: Steve Canyon Kennedy
Projection Design: Peter Nigrini
The Company: Michael Andreaus, E. Clayton Cornelious, Jalen Harris, Harnell Holmes Jr., Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Derek Adams, Brian C. Binion, Reggie Bromell, Felander, Shayla Brielle G., Treston J. Henderson, Dein Holloway, Quiana Onrae’l Holmes, Ryan Hunt, Jeremy Kelsey, AJ Lockhart, Dwayne P. Mitchell, Devin Price, Brittny Smith, Amber Mariah Talley, Andrew Volzer, Nazarria Workman.