This latest jukebox musical that brings to life the story and career of The Temptations might lack in narrative but is sleekly produced for an entertaining night of music.
Filled with plenty of hits, Ain’t Too Proud does extremely well to fit in as many of The Temptations songs as possible into this sleek and sophisticated production showcasing why they became such a huge chart topping group – despite many personal battles that were happening behind the scenes.
Taking audiences from the streets of Detroit and beyond, the group’s one remaining original member Otis Williams takes audiences through the long road to fame that the Temptations went on in a way that builds into each song perfectly well. But as well as the songs, the story (while lacking in the detail that anyone who doesn’t know anything about the group might find a little frustrating) is one of insecurity, alcoholism, fractured family relations and what was happening in society at the time – showcasing the darker side of fame. Dominique Morisseau’s book is breezy and light, but it would have been interesting to have a little more of the darkness come through to add a bit more of a dramatic tension – as it stands it feels individual members stories are slightly lost and told through one person’s perspective rather than taking a wider view.
This being said, it does offer a strong insight into just how ruthless the music industry can be – from Otis wanting to write his own songs and being refused, through to Berry Gordy removing Smokey Robinson of writing duties for the group to move their music in a different direction with the help of Norman Whitfield. It is no wonder that tensions between the members of the group rose and egos began to get in the way of the music – leading to all kinds of substance abuse.
Des McAnuff’s production is consistently engaging and along with Sergio Trujillo’s wonderful choreography that helps to effectively bring the Motown era to life it is also fabulously energetic. This is highlighted by the Supremes Medley and Get Ready sequences just really capturing the spirit of the music perfectly. It is clear throughout this is a show about the music and with the catalogue of music The Temptations have that is understandable. While, Robert Brill’s scenic design is a bit of a blank canvas, Peter Nigrini’s projection designs add a powerful component to the context of the story, particularly when Martin Luther King’s death is mentioned and headlines of the story being reported feels particularly haunting.
In order to bring these classic songs to life, a lot does ride on the performances of the cast – which in the case seems to be in very safe and strongly capable hands. Cameron Bernard Jones as Melvin (the first recruit that Otis hired for the band) has a wonderfully rich bass tone that is a joy to listen to, which is complimented by Tosh Wanogho-Maud as David Ruffin and Mitchell Zhangazha as Eddie who both deliver charismatic and engaging performances. Sifiso Mazibuko as Otis Williams, captures his passion and drive for the group and always putting them first with painful consequences that this has on his family life, realised in a moving scene with his grown up son.
Overall, there is much to be enjoyed about Ain’t Too Proud – it just would have been nice to have more of the story come through a little bit more. However, certainly come for the music but absolutely stay for the performances.
By Emma Clarendon
Ain’t Too Proud continues to play at the Prince Edward Theatre. To book tickets click here.