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Ain’t Too Proud ~ The Life and Times of The Temptations ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
July 1, 2018 

Ephraim Sykes, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, and James Harkness in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, now playing at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Doug Hamilton.

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 mega hit.  Told through the eyes of Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin), 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 (Christian Thompson). Through the years the group gained and lost members like David Ruffin (played by the spectacular Ephraim Sykes), Eddie Kendricks (a riveting Jeremy Pope), Melvin Franklin (the silken bass of Jawan M. Jackson) and Paul Williams (James Harkness).

Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, Jared Joseph, James Harkness. Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Production of Ain't Too Proud. Photo by Kevin Berne

Though the story guides us through their triumphs and tragedies, and multiple group member changes, 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.  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 looked around to see who was there – who was tapping their toes, mouthing the lyrics and bobbing their heads, and there were all ages.  Because you just can’t sit still to this rockin’ out, concert-style musical – certainly not while watching the highly choreographed synchronized dance movements The Temptations made famous or the 31 platinum hits presented here.  These were the tunes that backgrounded family BBQs, birthday parties, dance parties and early discos.  Melodies that were shared in cars and parks, and on street corners where quartets would spring 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.  Eventually though the scene changed with the death of Martin, John and Bobby and the group’s music – “War”, “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Ball of Confusion” – reflected those days.  Just as “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” reflected the psychedelic era.

Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, James Harkness, Jared Joseph, Derrick Baskin_Photo by litwin

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 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 fit, 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.

Taylor Symone Jackson, Candice Marie Woods, and Nasia Thomas_Photo by Kevin Berne.j

Taylor Symone Jackson, Candice Marie Woods, Nasia Thomas. Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Production of Ain't Too Proud. Photo by Kevin Berne.

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 from the original Broadway casts whose voices, bios and acting chops, are well known within the spheres of musical theater, film and TV.  These are multi-talented actors from Broadway productions of Motown: The Musical; Beautiful: The Carole King Musical; Memphis; Sister Act; The Scottsboro Boys and The Lion King with voices and moves to die for.  The only issue I have is why, oh why, were we teased with a too brief solo by Rashidra Scott’s heart-stopping voice on “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”?   Just when we had goosebumps.  It could have been as powerful a moment as Jennifer Holliday’s Dreamgirl number, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”.

So now the Kennedy Center has two major hits with Hamilton and Ain’t Too Proud.  Do you need any other reason to go?  Take this advice from the exhortation by one audience member who called out in appreciation at the end of “Losin’ You”. “Jesus!” she uttered loud and clear to an audience that was feeling the same thing at just that moment – that this music is the coolest, grooviest, most soulful music we can ever know.

Book by Dominique Morisseau.  Based on the book “The Temptations” by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski. Music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog.

Highly recommended.  See it before it heads to Broadway when tickets will be as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Through July 22nd 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 www.Kennedy-Center.org.

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