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A Soul-filled Journey Packed with Hits

Ain’t Too Proud

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

By: Jordan Wright

January 1, 2022

National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud – © 2021 Emilio Madrid

(left to right) – Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Marcus Paul James, Jalen Harris, Harrell Holmes Jr., James T. Lane from the National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud © 2021 Emilio Madrid

A Soul-filled Journey Packed with Hits

Jam-packed with hits from America’s number one R&B/Soul/Funk/Pop group of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, this bio-musical from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre is a blast-from-the-past, an oldies-but-goodies bonanza.  Told through the eyes of Otis Williams (Marcus Paul James), the group’s founding member, the story takes us on a top-of-the-pops journey from the original foursome’s Detroit roots on Euclid Avenue through its heyday under producer Berry Gordy with songs written by Smokey Robinson (Lawrence Dandridge). Through the years the group gained and lost members like David Ruffin (played by the spectacular Elijah Ahmad Lewis), Eddie Kendricks (a riveting Jalen Harris), Melvin Franklin (the silken bass of Harrell Holmes, Jr.) and Paul Williams (James T. Lane).

Though the story guides us through their triumphs and tragedies, and the multiple group member replacements, over the years, the show hangs on their hits – hits that a generation of us danced to, made out to and even got married to back when we grooved to the lyrics of their love songs. They fought through racist attacks in the Deep South hoping to become crossover artists. “You never know who is hating you and singing along to your records,” Otis decries. 

Don’t think for a minute that the audience was a bunch of aging baby boomers clinging to memories of their teenage years. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I checked out the audience – who were tapping their toes, mouthing the lyrics (Yes, under our masks!) and bobbing their heads – and they were all ages, every race. You just can’t sit still to this concert-style bio-musical. Certainly not while watching those slickly-choreographed and tightly-synchronized dance movements. 

Amassing an astonishing 31 platinum hits in their decades-long journey, the group created the sound that backgrounded family BBQs, birthdays, dance parties and early discos – songs listened to in cars and parks and on street corners where quartets sprung up like weeds. There is so much joyfulness in the early music – “My Girl”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”, “Cloud Nine” and so many more. When the scene changed with the death of Martin, John and Bobby, the group’s music reflected that fraught time with “War”, “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Ball of Confusion”.  

The musical is backdropped with period-centric projections by Peter Nigrini of Sponge Bob Square Pants and Amélie fame and choreographed to a gold standard by Sergio Trujillo known for his work on Jersey Boys and On Your Feet. Familiar with Dancing with the Stars? Orchestrations are by the TV show’s 17-year veteran musical director, Harold Wheeler with music directed by the legendary Kenny Seymour. Multiple Tony Award-winning Director Des McAnuff puts it all together and it’s as tight as the group’s pegged trousers and slim fitting sharkskin jackets and the sequin-gowns worn by Diana Ross and The Supremes who make an appearance along with Tammi Terrell, all of whom are costumed by Paul Tazewell veteran designer of Hamilton and a ton of other blockbuster Broadway hits.

I’d copy the playbill for you word for word if I could, because the cast includes some of the most successful and talented Black performers whose voices, bios and acting chops, are well known in musical theater, film and TV. These are multi-talented actors from the Broadway productions of Motown: The MusicalBeautiful: The Carole King MusicalMemphis; Sister ActThe Scottsboro Boys and The Lion King with voices and moves to die for. 

Book by Dominique Morisseau. Based on the book “The Temptations” by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski. Music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog featuring the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra led by Jay Crowder.

Highly recommended!!! 

Through January 16th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit

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