Theatre Review | ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ 

click to enlarge "Ain't Too Proud," the life and times of The Temptations, runs through February 4 at West Herr Auditorium Theatre.

© 2023 Emilio Madrid.

"Ain't Too Proud," the life and times of The Temptations, runs through February 4 at West Herr Auditorium Theatre.

There was something spiritual about Tuesday night’s opening performance of “Ain’t Too Proud” at the West Herr Auditorium Theatre. As the opening notes of “The Way You Do the Things You Do” swept through the crowd, an unsolicited call-and-response began from several audience members — and it continued until the final curtain call for the two-and-a-half hour performance.

“Ain’t Too Proud,” which runs through February 4 as part of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League’s 2023-24 season, is a jukebox musical recounting the life and times of The Temptations. A five-man vocal band with gospel roots formed in Detroit in the 1960s, The Temptations debuted with Motown Records at the height of the doo-wop era, competing only with Diana Ross and The Supremes for biggest R&B act in the country. Known for songs like “My Girl” and “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” The Temptations are still active to this day with founder Otis Williams at the helm.

“Ain’t Too Proud” travels back to the beginning, when a 20-something Williams (played by Michael Andreaus) was recruiting other Detroit youths to be in his vocal band. He finds his original four “brothers” — Paul Williams (E. Clayton Cornelious), Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris), Melvin Franklin (Harrell Holmes Jr.), and David Ruffin (Elijah Ahmad Lewis) — and the character narrates the next 30 or so years in their lives, from a record contract and TV specials to personal tragedies and interpersonal conflict. (The show is based on “Temptations,” the 1988 biographical book by Otis Williams.)

Casting choices are immaculate; each of the five original “Temps” are scene-stealing triple threats with serious stage presence. Much of the narration and dialogue is (impressively) sung-through, and with more than 25 songs in two-and-a-half hours, “Ain’t Too Proud” feels like both a full-blown concert and a workout for the leading actors (and the five-person orchestra, conducted by Jonathan “Smitti” Smith). Dressed in dapper suits, The Temps often pull out handkerchiefs to mop gleaming brows while dancing to toe-tapping choreography by Sergio Trujillo.

click to enlarge "Ain't Too Proud," the life and times of The Temptations, runs through February 4 at West Herr Auditorium Theatre. - © 2023 EMILIO MADRID.
  • © 2023 Emilio Madrid.
  • "Ain't Too Proud," the life and times of The Temptations, runs through February 4 at West Herr Auditorium Theatre.

Under the direction of Des McAnuff, the frontman performances of Lewis, Harris and Andreaus are especially gripping; while Holmes and Cornelious pull at the heart strings with their quieter roles. As Josephine, the mother of Williams’s son, Tiffany Frances delivers powerhouse vocals and a sobering glimpse of solo parenthood due to life on the road.

Backdropping the performances is a rotating, shimmering set design by Robert Brill. Lighting design by Howell Binkley and projection design by Peter Nigrini lend to the feeling that this could be a live concert in the 60s or 70s.

Singing is the band’s salvation, and as members leave the band for one reason or another they unravel in myriad tragic ways. It’s worth noting through the lightness and fun of the first act that these are real stories; and the actors onstage portray genuine grief in their respective roles throughout act two.

At the top of the show, a spotlit Williams foreshadows the layered story audiences are about to experience.

“We made history together, all of us,” he says. “The thing about history, though, is there is no progress without sacrifice.”

“Ain’t Too Proud” is a moving, biographical portrait of humanity in the throes of fame — and the musical legacy left through it all.

The show runs through February 4 at West Herr Auditorium Theatre. More info and tickets here.

Leah Stacy is CITY’s editor. She can be reached at [email protected].
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