Having just finished its Tony Award winning Broadway run, the tour of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations” marks its second stop with a visit to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando.
“Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations”, as the name implies, tells the story of American vocal group, The Temptations, from their founding in 1960 through today. Narrated by founding member Otis Williams, the show highlights the love and internal struggles of the group’s many different members through the years, from their humble beginnings in Detroit all the way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The production is punctuated by soulful renditions of many of the group’s top hits such as “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination” as well as some of their signature dance moves.
It would be easy to dismiss “Ain’t Too Proud” as just a “jukebox” musical that takes an existing catalog of songs and crafts a story around them, but the songs are the story of The Temptations in so many ways that trying to tell their story, and indeed it’s a story worth telling, without these songs would be ridiculous. I’ll admit to not being incredibly familiar with The Temptations going into this show, but found myself singing along and bobbing my head to hit after hit due to how ingrained this music is in the American songbook. The music isn’t just shoehorned into the plot, instead it is precisely chosen both to show the passage of time and to highlight key moments in the story. And with over 30 different songs present in the show, this is truly an accomplishment.
Though the pacing dips a bit at the beginning of act two, the story remains engrossing throughout, even as it retells the familiar tale of young people with big personalities struggling to cope with stardom. The true highlight of the show, though, and really the main draw for even those outside the typical theater audience, are the amazing vocal talents of the cast and their silky smooth dance moves. Elijah Ahmad Lewis shines as troubled frontman David Ruffin, hitting both splits on the floor and all the right high notes. Harrell Holmes Jr. as bass singer Melvin Franklin is another standout with a deep voice that is once in a lifetime. Marcus Paul James as narrator and founding member of The Temptations, Otis Williams, falls into the back in many numbers as both a background singer and as storyteller. I wish the musical mix had given him more of a chance to shine, especially during the songs in which he got to sing the lead. Though a special Ironman award should definitely go to him having barely ever left the stage during the more than two-hour runtime of the show.
All in all, I really enjoyed “Ain’t Too Proud” and my time with The Temptations. The wonderful music and stellar performances kept me interested and engaged in what might otherwise have been a so-so story, even inspiring me to want to look up more information about the true story of The Temptations. Whether you’re familiar with the group, their songs, and their legacy or not, “Ain’t Too Proud” delivers an exciting and often poignant evening of theater for all comers.
“Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations” runs now through Jan. 30, 2022 at Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando, Fla. For tickets or more information visit DrPhillipsCenter.org.