Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations is a hoot of a way to end this year’s Broadway season at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. It’s full of feel-good energy and lots of familiar tunes that has you wanting more….and that’s a good metaphor for a Buffalo theatre season, especially coming of the COVID-intermission.
The show is part memoir, part juke box tribute to the 60-year reign of The Temptations. Not unlike Jersey Boys or Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the script is a loose outline of how Otis Williams (Marcus Paul James) created brotherhood through music with some fellow Detroiters, got introduced to Motown legend Berry Gordy (Michael Andreaus) who assigned fledgling songwriter Smokey Robinson (Lawrence Dandridge) to create a signature sound, and the rest – as they say – is history. Along the way, there were plenty of woman woes, drug abuse, competition for the spotlight and plenty of music. The most fascinating part of the Temp’s history though is the time: they were moving up through the 1960s, working though the Civil Rights Movement, mourning the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., coping with violence as they toured southern states, while making music history in their own way. There were hints that the group wanted more relevance and to take a stand for social justice, but Gordy hired Shelly Berger (Reed Campbell) to help manage them and introduce a cross-cultural sound for their unique talents. Was there disappointment here? Maybe. Probably. This is the part of their story that deserved more telling, methinks. But scripts like this are written to hit the high notes (at best in falsetto) and a little revisionist history means we just get to the tunes a little faster.
And that’s the whole point of the story…. to celebrate the music. And damn it was good. Diana Ross and the Supremes make a guest appearance along with Tammi Terrell. Deri’Andra Tucker as Diana, Shayla Brielle G. doing double duty as Tammi and Flo, and Traci Elaine Lee as Mary had voices worthy of the music for sure.
It’s the five original Temps that had the show, though (there were 24 Temps to date, Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams said). He plus James T. Lane, Harrell Holmes, Jr., Jalen Harris, Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, and David Ruffin had the voices, the dancing, the swagger, and brotherhood that showed the best of the Temps the way we want to see them. If the script washed over the less appealing stuff…well…that’s not what the show was meant to be. It’s all about “Cloud Nine,” “My Girl,” “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and the soundtrack of our lives from ’61 to ’73 and the group’s last Top 10 hit.
As you would expect, the lights, the costumes, the projection, and the set changes were flashy and dazzling. There was an appropriate Buffalo cheer when “Buffalo” and “Kleinhans” on flashed the projected marquee. And of course, when an early group member broke into “Shout,” this prompted an audience sing along. (Now wait a minute, kids, “Shout” was really a song before it became our favorite cheer.) Maybe it is in the script that the singer on stage ‘cues’ the audience to join in, but that clearly isn’t needed in this town.
If I had one disappointment, it is that there wasn’t a “mega mix” medley at the end so the audience – already on its feet – could dance and sing along one more time.
“Ain’t Too Proud” is in town (God willing and the COVID rate don’t rise) to Sunday, May 15. It runs a full two hours including a 20-minute intermission. Tickets and details at www.sheas.org.