Review: ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ an irresistible Temptation

National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud."

If you haven’t been a fan of my reviews before, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” so “Get Ready,” “My Girl,” unless you say that “I Can’t Get Next to You.” No, I’m not being fresh – based on the musical I just saw, “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations,” I couldn’t resist the, well, temptations of using the group’s song titles.

Jukebox musicals focused on the music and often the lives of popular recording artists can be hit-and-miss in terms of quality – you’re typically guaranteed to hear those song hits, but the script may miss the mark. When the show is the touring version of “Ain’t Too Proud,” now playing at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre through Sunday, June 5, fans of the Motown supergroup might worry about whether the musical will live up to their expectations. Is the singing excellent? Do the actors playing The Temptations have those oh-so-smooth dance moves down perfectly? Will the trials faced by band members over the years be addressed – and make it too serious? From my standpoint and the vast majority of audience members at opening night, the answers are yes, yes, and no, respectively. There’s a lot to be “Proud” of on that stage, and that’s not “Just My Imagination.”

The musical, which won one of the 12 Tony Awards it was nominated for in 2019 – the one for Best Choreography (Sergio Trujillo reprises that responsibility for the touring production) – mostly is narrated by original band member Otis Williams (played here by Marcus Paul James), and that’s appropriate for a couple reasons. First, the book of the musical may be written by three-time Obie Award-winning playwright Dominique Morisseau, but the entire show is based on “The Temptations,” a 1988 autobiography/history of the band that Williams co-wrote with Patricia Romanowski. Second, at the age of 80, Williams is the only original band member still touring with the group, and is even scheduled to come to Door County in September.

With Williams as the narrator, we quickly see how he went from cell bars (six months in juvenile detention) to his determination to follow in the footsteps of one of his favorite groups, The Cadillacs, to creating the three-man band, Otis Williams and the Distants in Detroit, eventually adding another duo to the group. With the help of Motown founder Berry Gordy, whom Otis initially chats up in an unusual spot (“When you see Mr. Berry Gordy headed to the bathroom, you suddenly have to pee really bad”), they get their first break and a name change. The 1960-formed quintet – including Otis, the unrelated Paul Williams (James T. Lane), Melvin Franklin (Harrell Holmes Jr.), Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris) and Al Bryant (Brett Michael Lockley) – changes from The Elgins to The Temptations, with Smokey Robinson (Lawrence Dandridge) as their Gordy-assigned songwriter/mentor.

Bryant is the first band member who leaves the group (as Otis tells us, “Sometimes TEMP also stood for TEMPorary”), being replaced by David Ruffin (Elijah Ahmad Lewis), whose lead singer abilities are clear from the start. “Smokey found his muse,” Otis says, and the result is the group’s first #1 hit, “My Girl.” “We found our ‘diamond in the Ruffin.’”

The road to fame as one of Motown’s biggest R&B groups isn’t as smooth as the aforementioned dance moves, with a troubled marriage, abuse, alcohol, drugs, illness, egotism, racism-motivated violence, and internal fighting all emerging over the years. As Otis explains, “We were all giving up normal living to be larger than life.”

Jalen Harris and the National Touring Company of "Ain’t Too Proud."

But in this show, you’re never far away from another song, and the inclusion of other Motown artists like Diana Ross (Deri’Andra Tucker) and The Supremes (Shayla Brielle G. and Traci Elaine Lee) and Tammi Terrell (also played by Shayla Brielle G.) allows for an even larger song list during the 2 ½-hour musical. From “Baby Love” to “Shout” to “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” over 30 different songs are sampled.

Traci Elaine Lee (from left), Deri’Andra Tucker, Shayla Brielle G. from the National Touring Company of "Ain’t Too Proud."

The production also provides a bit of context to the decades of The Temptations’ successes, often combining the music with black-and-white newspapers and photos/videos projected at the back of the stage (including Vietnam war footage during the song “War”). Projection designer Peter Nigrini’s work in those areas is excellent, although I did struggle to make out some of the huge-letter city names as they flowed by at various times (representing The Temptations’ numerous concert tour sites).

“Ain’t Too Proud” may have only won a single Tony Award, but it received another 11 well-deserved nominations, many of which are evident in the touring production. After all, the show was nominated for Best Musical, Book of a Musical, Direction of a Musical, Scenic Design, Costume Design, Lighting Design, and Sound Design.

If fellow audience members singing along is bothersome, that’s the only downside to a Cadillac Palace visit for this Motown tribute. So don’t hesitate on tickets for “Ain’t Too Proud,” but give in to Temptations.

• Paul Lockwood is a singer, local theater actor, Grace Lutheran Church (Woodstock) and Toastmasters member, occasional theater reviewer, podcaster, columnist and past president of TownSquare Players. He’s lived in Woodstock for more than 21 years.


WHAT: “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations”

WHERE: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago

WHEN: Through June 5; masks required


Have a Question about this article?