Performing Arts: Theater
April 8, 2019
There are nearly as many steps interwoven throughout the songs as words in the hip-stirring Broadway Musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.

The new production, exhilaratingly directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, underscores the centrality of the dance routines to the Motown signature. And although his name is absent in the script, it would be hard to top the original dance sequences devised by master Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins whose precision and style was coupled to cool and sex.

Trujillo nods to Atkins’ riffs by incorporating crystalline steps, contrasted against dramatic pauses, expressive hands and head snaps that punctuate huge smiles in some of Broadway’s best choreography.

For example, when the Temps sing "twiddle dee, twiddle dum, look out baby ‘cause here I come" the men pair off and rhythmically patty cake their fingers back-and forth; spit-out double turns and chug along without missing a note. None of this Mickey-Mouse “foot forward, foot back, sing and repeat” stuff in this show. Nope—the mighty-talented cast of men move with the fire of James Brown and finesse of Michael Jackson.

“Ain’t Too Proud” hugs the storyline of the Temptations’ original membership and ever- shifting singer combinations. Narrated by the designated leader (and last original member standing) Otis Williams (Derreck Baskin), the Temps’ taut backbone was built on five smooth singing and dancing men in sharp suits and neat moves. This “class act” produced the perennially popular Temptations. Although the original five were magic, the “sound” remained supreme despite the personnel swap- outs.

Besides the clean, well-enunciated book by Dominique Morisseau (based on Otis Williams’ 1988 memoir) the cast is a wonder of talent. In the role of the charismatic Ruffin, Ephraim Sykes pulls off some of Ruffin's spectacular signature moves—including the one where he tosses the microphone up in the air, starts to drop to the floor, catches the microphone, falls into the splits and bounces back up. Yes—the audience goes wild!

Equally talented and exuding a "lover-boy" sensuality, the dapper Eddie Kendricks (portrayed by the impressively gifted Jeremy Pope) struts around, keen on his threads and ladies. The booming bass of Melvin Franklin (Jawan M. Jackson) tickles the souls of your feet and James Harkness (Paul Williams) adds to the all important group glue.

The whole cast of eight men are vocal and movement chameleons, skillfully enacting the Temps’ rise to stardom. Like so many other musical groups of the 1970's, drugs, alcohol and physical abuse deteriorate the bonds linking the original members. The "leader/organizer" of the group, Otis understands the team’s sound reigns over any one individual. Despite interpersonal loyalties and tensions, Otis manages to replace destructive behavior -- even when it means losing the star, Eddie Ruffin. In the end, Otis gets it right: despite the brilliance of individual singers, the Temptations’ group ethos forges the sound that lives forever.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis

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