Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations • January 10, 2023• Eccles Theater
Reviewed by Kevin Rolfe
The Eccles Theater and Broadway at the Eccles started 2023 with a bang. Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations was a perfect way to start the new year. The jukebox musical tells the story of one of the most iconic and influential groups in music history. The Motown legends had so many peaks and valleys throughout their career that it would be impossible to pack all of the history into a Broadway show. But the production sure tried. In the late 90s NBC produced an four hour miniseries of the group and even with all the detail they provided, I still had more questions. Each membrer of the classic lineup has a story that could be its own movie or musical.
On a personal level, I grew up with The Temptations played in my home. I know this music really well. When I heard that it was going to be a musical, I was excited. When I heard it was coming to Eccles Theater, I was elated! I couldn’t wait how they incorporated the music with the story. I was also looking forward to seeing this cast play these Rock n Roll Hall of Fame legends. These are pretty big shoes to fill.
There was a lot of chatter going on when I walked into the lobby of Eccles Theater. Just as I exited the freeway, snow started dumping from the sky. Making it a little challenging to get parked and into the theater. I felt like that was the general conversation going on with the snow soaked crowd entering the doors. The show started about 5 or so minutes late. I’m guessing they wanted to give people a little extra time to get inside and situated.
The show opens with the classic lineup performing their first big hit, “The Way You Do the Things You Do”. Immediately it was clear that we were not only in for a good time, but the music of The Temptations was in good hands. From there we go though the formation of the classic Temptations lineup of, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, and David Ruffin. I was so drawn in to the story of how each member became part of the group. As I looked around I could see people bobbing their heads and fighting to stay in their seats.
So much of this production had a concert feel to it, and yet were were going through this amazing story at the same time. The pace was quick, but not rushed. And the energy was high from the get go. And that’s before we were introduced to David Ruffin!
David Ruffin, played masterfully by Elijah Ahmad Lewis, is the character/ person that has always caught my attention. He has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. “My Girl”, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, and so one display just how amazing Ruffin was. His story is hard to watch because I become so drawn in by his magnetism and presence, and yet he breaks your heart because I so want him to conquer the demons that he ultimately sucumbs to. Lewis was perfectly cast in this role. He sings the part amazingly, but also brings a theatrical presence to the man. The role of David Ruffin has a ton of range both vocally and as a character. It has to be difficult to find someone who can step in to both of those shoes. Elijah Ahmad Lewis filled both exceptionally well.
Ain’t Too Proud weaves the stories of each of these five men with a creative balance. Just when you wonder “What about that guy’s story?”, we learn more about that character. Like I said, each man has a full musical’s worth of story, and yet we’re given a lot of insight on their lives by the way this musical tells The Temptations’ story.
This cast was incredibly talented from top to bottom. Not only the classic lineup of The Temptations were great. But also the actors who played replacement members were outstanding. The women who played girlfriends wives and The Supremes brought another dynamic that was much needed in this male driven story.
Songs like “My Girl”, “Just My Imagination”, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” were presented really well in this production. It would be easy to perform the songs straight up and then carry on with the show. But these songs are so iconic and largly what people think of when they think of the Temptations. So they were arranged in a way that extended the song through part of the story. We were able to get a greater taste of these great songs while not having them overdone. I loved it.
While Elijah Ahmad Lewis (David Ruffin), F. Clayton Cornelius (Paul Williams) who hit some huge notes and played such a steady character throughout, Harrell Holmes Jr (Melvin Franklin) who brough levity to the show and bass notes to rattle the seats, Jalen Harris (Eddie Kendricks) who did Kendricks justice while bringing in a style of his own (what a voice!), were brilliant in their respectful roles (and respectful is putting it mildly), I have to tip my hat to Michael Andreaus. He plays the role of Otis Williams. His book is what this musical is based on. He’s also (spoilier alert) the only member of the original Temptations still living.
Otis Williams is responsible for keeping the going through the highs and lows of the group. When Michael Andreaus wasn’t dancing, he was singing, when he wasn’t singing, he was narrating the show. He had so many lines! He moved the show along impressively. Otis Williams is a challenging role, and despite all the lines and being on stage for the entire show, there are other roles that can stand out due to the nature of the character or the songs they sing. But without Michel Andreaus playing his part steadily the show doesn’t work. I applaud his work.
Wrapping up the show means telling the audience what happened to all of these great vocalists. The difficult part of doing that is they’ve all died. Some of them tragicly. I was concerned with how they would pull off telling this part of the story and still ending the musical on an upbeat. That can be an awkward or harsh transition. I’m not sure how they did it, but they totally did. The second the show ended people who had been fighting it the whole night, jumped to their feet. The audience was standing before any of the lead roles took their bows. That’s a great sign of a good show experience. And Ain’t Too Proud to Beg is a really enjoyable experience.
I think of this show as the perfect show to take someone to who might claim to not be a huge fan of musical theater. The music is familiar. It feels more like a concert at times. And yet the choreography, book, costumes, and sets are definitely worthy of a great musical. They’ll love it! Jukebox musicals are hit or miss for me. They can feel forced or like a money grab. I thought Ain’t Too Proud was a jukebox musical worth seeing.
Through amazing highs and tragic lows, The Temptations have percerviered somehow all these years. I’m glad we have Ain’t Too Proud as another way to preserve their legacy and introduce the Rock N Roll Hall of Famers to a new audience.
Ain’t Too Proud is playing at Eccles Theater until January 15, 2023. Some great tickets have just been released! There are also tickets available for students for only $25. To buy tickets or more information go to saltlakecity.broadway.com