Erin @ ‘Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations’ - the energy of 60,000 toddlers
What’s it about?
Five guys, one dream. And a sound that made music history.
My dad always turned up The Temptations whenever they came on the radio in the car during our drives to and from school. The first time I remember him doing so, I looked at the display and asked, “The Temptations are men?” He looked at me like I was a little bit stupid, and I clarified. “I thought they were a girl group, like The Supremes or The Marvelettes.”
Well, now I know they’re men and whoo boy, what a talented group of men! So talented in fact, that in order to even come close to the originals, you’d need a bunch of trained singers and dancers with the voices of angels and the energy of 60,000 toddlers. Luckily, the producers of Ain’t Too Proud found them, and they’re performing at the Imperial Theatre for the foreseeable future.
A musical about the life and times of The Temptations (the entire life and times), Ain’t Too Proud spans multiple decades and members throughout the group’s history. In the aftermath of so many fourth-wall breaks that I felt like I had bricks in my lap, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the show. It was fun, infectious and visually stunning, but I didn’t really feel like I cared. I had a great time, but beyond recalling that time my dad doubted my intelligence in the car, I had no personal connection to the show. That’s fine—I’ve seen and loved many shows that I had no connection to, but Ain’t Too Proud didn’t give me a reason to care. There wasn’t an antagonist or a structure to the plot or the ever critical “so what?” factor. It was so busy getting through 50 years worth of history that it never really told us why we should be watching. Granted, The Temptations are an incredibly important group, culturally and politically, and the show did mention all that. It covered their struggles during the civil rights era, when being black artists crossing over to a mainstream white audience was physically dangerous, and dealt with the drug epidemic. But none of that told me why I was sitting in the theatre. I have truly no idea what the purpose of this show was. Capitalism? To make Baby Boomers with enough money flock to the musical? To give Tony nominee Ephraim Sykes the opportunity to do the splits eight shows a week? If the majority of the show had been about their sociopolitical struggles and had taken the time to explore the world around them and what it meant to be black men on stage at that time, I wouldn’t be writing this. But it didn’t, so I am.
Before I go any further, I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t watch the Tony Awards as that night I was packing for a beach trip. Frankly, I felt that my attention would be better directed to deciding which hat to bring than on watching a program that somehow never fails to make me feel like I have no path to success, and should just go herd sheep in the Andes. But I did check on updates from Ain’t Too Proud, which was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won for Best Choreography.
Now, let me get to what I loved about the show. While the book didn’t seem to have a purpose and the dialogue felt like quotations from my grandparents on Facebook, the visuals won me over. This was hands down one of the most visually stunning shows I have seen in my life. The lights, which often blazed through the audience like we were at a concert, were stunning, and the projections swirling around gave the show a frantic, modern feel. The set, which descended and slid in from multiple points, included a cherry red convertible, which to my disappointment was only used in one scene. Clad in some of the most sumptuous costumes I’ve seen in a while, the performers were given energetic, cohesive and incredibly smooth choreography, which in my mind was a shoo-in for the Tony. Although this is the only Broadway show I saw this year, I felt that the design elements were spectacular enough that it should have won everything in existence.
The performances were also magnificent. The skill and training needed to do a show like this eight times a week is beyond what I can comprehend. And to me, that’s what made this show special. The energy from the crowd, many of whom grew up with this music and group, was reciprocated by the performers who, beyond being insanely talented, clearly care very deeply about what they do. Despite my qualms with the book, Ain’t Too Proud is a fun, talent-filled spectacle that is an absolute joy to experience.
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