• By: Karen Temple

“Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Time of The Temptations” is a Not-to-Be-Missed Musical Celebration

I Can’t Get Next To You had barely finished when the audience at the National Arts Centre sprang to their feet in raucous applause for the standing ovation. The reaction to The Temptations’ song makes you realize the incredible staying power of great music. The Motown group must have surely brought down concert halls way back in 1969 when it was a number-one hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Billboard Top R&B Singles chart.

The song from the group’s Cloud 9 (1968) album was the perfect choice to close Broadway Across Canada’s (BAC) fantastic performance of Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Time of The Temptations — because it is all about the music!

The musical, which is in Ottawa only until Sunday, December 31, is based on the book The Temptations by Otis Williams (with Patricia Ramonowski). BAC’s staging tells the 23-year-plus chronological story of the band’s formation that began as two rival Detroit groups that came together as The Elgins and changed their name to The Temptations when they signed with Berry Gordy at Motown.

Ain’t Too Proud is narrated by Otis Williams (Michael Andreaus), the founding and longest-serving member of the boy band that was the first Black group to win a coveted Grammy Award — they went on to win two more. The performances were all very solid, but a personal favourite was the portrayal of the group’s falsetto Eddie Kendrick by Jallen Harris, who appeared to be signing to someone special in the audience, giving off the vibe that you were at an actual Temptations concert.

The story touches on the group’s legendary Motown producer Smokey Robinson, who crafted the R&B/soul sound for the band, and writer/producer Norman Whitfield, who introduced a psychedelic soul to the band’s repertoire. The signature dance moves by the five range from kitschy to incredible but are so entertaining and, when combined with their stylish outfits, make them electrifying performers.

Singer Paul Williams (Devin Price) admits that the lyrics could sometimes be corny when he speaks directly to the audience in the show’s first half. He references the opening line from the song, The Way You Do The Things You Do — “You’ve got a smile so bright-You know you could have been a candle,” which made the audience chuckle.

Ain’t Too Proud deals with the pressure on the band to cross over and appeal to mainstream American white audiences, a feat that the Motown girl band The Supremes had already succeeded in doing.

Ain’t Too Proud is a celebration of the music, and it shines brightly. The portrayal of Eddie Kendrick shone a light on the group dynamics. He wanted all five singers to have an equal say and was often unhappy when Otis Williams made decisions on behalf of the band. He must have come to realise what audiences already knew: the combination of the five incredible vocalists made the band a success.

Addiction and egos led early on to the swapping out of band members, which continued after the deaths of Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and eventually Melvin Franklin. In what might seem like a revolving door, an incredible 27 singers can be credited with being part of the five-man band.

From depicting the band on a tour bus in the southern U.S. to a soundstage at NBC studios or graveside for the funeral of a fellow band member, the set design for Ain’t Too Proud is simply perfect — it helps to convey the mood of the times without detracting from or overshadowing the story of the music.

Ain’t Too Proud is the perfect family event. Nominated for 12 Tony Awards, parents and grandparents can take a trip down memory lane while the kids and grandkids will be introduced to the incredible music of the all-time number-one group in the history of Rhythm and Blues. We guarantee that by the last song, you will be swaying in your seat before springing to your feet in applause.

Catch Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations nightly at the NAC with matinees on both Saturday, December 30th and Sunday, December 31st.

For more information and tickets, visit Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations | Dec 26 – 31, 2023 | Southam Hall | National Arts Centre (nac-cna.ca)

For more information on upcoming shows from Broadway Across Canada, visit https://www.broadwayacrosscanada.ca/

Header photo: Courtesy BACTouring