'Ain't Too Proud' Will Lead You Into Temptation at Broadway's Imperial Theatre
Broadway’s newest musical Ain’t Too Proud should definitely take pride in its ability to fill a Broadway theatre.
The musical based on the life and times of one of the most influential, groundbreaking singing groups in history - The Temptations - debuted on Broadway on March 21. The queue to get in lined the block, and not a seat was left empty on a rainy Friday night in April.
Music & Mojitos was on hand to check out the latest production gracing the Imperial Theatre - and we weren’t the only ones trying to take in the sounds and sights of the 60s. Former First Lady Hillary Clinton and colorful TV personality Andy Cohen were also in attendance, which certainly made it a night to remember for both fans and cast alike.
Everyone sort of expects that a Broadway musical about a singing group is going to have an amazing soundtrack—especially when that group has as many number one hit singles as The Temptations. The legendary Motown catalog, of course, is on full display in Ain’t Too Proud with Director Des McAnuff making sure the songs get the attention they deserve. Yet what truly carried the production through was the incredible talent of the cast. Derrick Baskin did a phenomenal job leading the cast as Otis Williams, the self-described “backbone” and leader of the group, as structured throughout the musical, anyway (Otis is the only surviving member of the original Temptations today). While Baskin does an excellent job propelling the narrative forward, The Temptations made a point of emphasizing their collectivism over individuality - the group should be taken as a whole, and we were pleasantly surprised to see each member given apt character development within the context of the group.
In particular, we were blown away by the sultry and soothing bass of Jawan M. Jackson in the role of Melvin Franklin, and the incredible depth and richness his deep baritone gave to each song without overpowering the other performers. We also really liked the charisma and charm with which Ephraim Sykes (of “Hamilton” fame) endowed his portrayal of David Ruffin. Back in the heyday of the original “Classic Five" era of The Temptations, the real David Ruffin began as a background singer until Smokey Robinson penned the perfect piece to showcase Ruffin’s vocal range - “My Girl.” “My Girl” became The Temptations first No. 1 hit in 1965, propelling Ruffin to stardom and elevating him from background singer to lead singer. Ruffin quickly became a fan favorite, and Music & Mojitos thinks that Sykes did an excellent job of both capturing Ruffin’s charisma while also endearing himself to his present-day audience.
Ain’t Too Proud also made sure to shine a light on the struggles The Temptations faced during their legendary run on top. While Ruffin would blow away audiences with his incredible showmanship and charm, behind-the-scenes was a completely different story. Ruffin’s constant cocaine use caused friction within the group, and difficult decisions had to be made. The Broadway production showcased how friendships were torn a part. Ain’t Too Proud is a celebration of music, but also serves as a reminder of the painful price paid by the perpetually rotating members of the group.
While Ain’t Too Proud was a primarily male-centric musical, we can’t ignore the incredible performances by the women in the production. We thought that Taylor Symone Jackson, Nasia Thomas, and Candice Marie Woods in their roles as Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Diana Ross did an excellent job of providing context and pizzazz to an era that forever changed America. Songs like “Baby Love” and “You Can’t Hurry Love” got the crowd smiling. The Temptations and The Supremes were friends as much as they were Motown rivals. Both groups worked to define the 1960s, and were integral players in beginning to change race relations within the music industry.
Speaking of which, one thing we might have liked to see more of in the musical was a discussion of racism in the United States. Ain’t Too Proud addresses the issue briefly through a heartbreaking scene on a bus ride down south, but could have perhaps used the second act to focus on the realities of what The Temptations had to go through on a daily basis.
If you’re in the New York City area, Ain’t Too Proud is a Broadway musical not to be missed. With standout choreography from Sergio Trujillo to songs like “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” and “Get Ready,” it’s incredibly difficult to not clap and sing along with the talented ensemble. The show merges The Temptations’ trademark swagger with the theatrics you can only expect from a musical on 45th street. The result is an uplifting Broadway experience with timeless music that speaks to the heart and soul, decades after being introduced to the world. You can purchase tickets to Ain’t Too Proud here.
This article was co-written by Kyle Stevens.