By Ralph E. Moore, Jr.,
Special to the AFRO
The Temptations of Motown are the greatest rhythm and blues group of all time. The musical about the Temptation story is one of the best couple of hours or so one could spend in a theater.
The familiar songs make you sing along, and the stories of each of the five original members, David Ruffin, Otis Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin and Paul Williams, keep you fascinated. There are background tales and details the common fan doesn’t know that are revealed during the show and perhaps there are things enthusiasts don’t want to know.
Either way, the singing, the dancing, the acting, the staging were all soul grabbing, hand clapping, singing out loud and feeling good feeling from the first moment to the very last note.
Those who had the chance to experience the show during the Baltimore leg of the tour have surely “been sanctified,” as the martyred Marvin Gaye once sang- that is, uplifted to rhythm and blues heaven.
Incidentally, Marvin is not featured in the story. His musician soul mate, Tammi Terrell, appears as the song mate and dance partner of her once boyfriend, David Ruffin.
The musical punctuates all the great Temptation and Motown songs with the sad stories of successful but flawed entertainers. The play discusses Otis’s strained marriage due to being on the road too much and his son preceding him in death. Paul Williams death by suicide after his struggles with drink and drugs—his character’s singing ‘For Once in My Life I Have Someone Who Needs Me’ especially tugs the heartstrings and the deaths too soon of David, Eddie and Melvin none of who grew into old age makes you wonder about the price (the ransom?) of their larger than life success.
During ‘Ain’t Too Proud,’ the singing was sensational, the dancing was very true to all one might remember seeing the Temps on the Sunday night Ed Sullivan TV show or live down at the old Baltimore Civic Center. The familiarity of the sounds and the sights of the very fancy footwork make you long for the days when life was simple. Clearly, the cast of 27 main characters worked exceedingly hard to nail down the Motown sound and to duplicate the magical moves of the best group there ever was. ‘Was’ is the appropriate word because the original Temptations are long gone with the exception of Otis Williams. Otis claims to be the founder of the group who held it together during the difficult days of member’s ego bullying, drugs usage and redefining the group due to the challenges of the time such as the civil rights movement and the change from their writer, Smokey Robinson to Norman Whitfield, then unfamiliar to the group. Otis Williams is now 80 years old.
The Temptations left Motown Entertainment for four years in 1976 but returned home. Many members of the group have come and gone, 25 different men have sung the songs and danced the moves of the Temptations over the six decades of the group but the Tempts of the 1960s and ‘70s are the founders and that history will always remember.
The Supremes are superbly represented in the musical and the woman who portrays Diana Ross (Deri’ Andra Tucker) sounds most like her.
The actors (including Marcus Paul Hames as Otis, James T. Lane as Paul, Harrell Holmes, Jr. as Melvin, Jalen Harris as Eddie and Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David) are all accomplished actors, the dance coaches did a superb job of choreographing, the singing and the costumes were all authentic looking and sounding without being exact copies.
‘Ain’t Too Proud’ is leaving town, likely to return. And when it returns to town, go see it. Young or old the music of the Temptations is still around and will stay around. Go see how this great act was born and enjoy it knowing it looks as if the music and the memories will never die. Thank heaven.
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