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Mega-Musical Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations – Now at the Kennedy Center

Mega-Musical Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations – Now at the Kennedy Center

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
February 15, 2024
Special to The Zebra

(L – R)- Michael Andreaus, Jalen Harris, Harrell Holmes Jr., Elijah Ahmad Lewis, E. Clayton Cornelious (Photo Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid)

Ain’t Too Proud debuted on the Kennedy Center stage in 2018 when it opened in DC before heading directly to Broadway. We thrilled to the musical and the extraordinary performances then. But since going to Broadway the show has amped up every single production value from the electrifying choreography by Sergio Trujillo, to the scenic design by Robert Brill and Projection Design by Peter Nigrini. For two and half hours, time stops. If you blink, you’ll miss everything cool you ever knew. Your heart will race, your jaw drop and your feet won’t stop toe-tapping. This is one of the most exciting musicals you will ever see. It is sheer entertainment from curtain up to the final wild applause.

Brittny Smith, Amber Mariah Talley, Shayla Brielle G. (Photo Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid)

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 (Michael Andreaus), 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 über producer Berry Gordy (Jeremy Kelsey) with songs written by Smokey Robinson (Derek Adams who also plays Damon Harris).

Through the years the group gained and lost members from the originals – David Ruffin (played by the spectacular Elijah Ahman Lewis), Eddie Kendricks (a riveting Jalen Harris), Melvin Franklin (the silken bass of Harrell Holmes, Jr.) and Paul Williams (E. Clayton Cornelious – played without missing a beat by understudy Brian C. Binion on opening night). The group’s veteran agent, Shelly Berger (Ryan M. Hunt), was tasked with guiding their sound and keeping them in line.

Brittny Smith (Photo Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid)

Though the story guides us through their triumphs and tragedies and the ebb and flow of group member changes, the show hangs on fiercely to their mega-hits – hits that a generation of us danced to, made out to and even got married as we sang along to their soulful love songs. But 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 they were all ages. Because you cannot sit still to this energy-pumping, concert-style musical – certainly not while watching the performers execute the highly-stylized, synchronized dance movements The Temptations made famous or the exquisite harmonies of the group of five performing 30 of their platinum hits. These were the tunes that backgrounded family BBQs, birthday parties, dance parties and discothèques. Melodies that were listened to on car radios and record players 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.

National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud (Photo Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid)

When the scene changed with the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, the group’s music – “War”, “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Ball of Confusion” – reflected societal upheavel. Just as “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” reflected the psychedelic era.

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 18-year veteran musical director, Harold Wheeler with music directed and arranged by the legendary Kenny Seymour. Multi Tony Award-winning Director Des McAnuff puts it all together and it’s as tight as the group’s pegged trousers and trim sharkskin jackets or the sequined gowns worn by Diana Ross and The Supremes who make an appearance along with music icon Tammi Terrell (Shayla Brielle G.), all of whom are costumed by Paul Tazewell veteran designer of Hamilton and a ton of other blockbuster Broadway hits.

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! If I gave out stars, which I don’t, I would give it five stars!

National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud (Photo Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid)

Through February 18th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit

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