The Temptations Bring Detroit to Broadway

 

Temptations photos by Matthew Murphy

Not since the smash hit Beatlemania has a Broadway show captured the musical nostalgia of a generation in such a profound way as Ain’t Too Proud, The Life and Times of The Temptations.

Featuring music from the iconic Motown songbook, Ain’t Too Proud  takes the audience on a soulful journey of song after song that stands the test of time even today. From the streets of Detroit to eventually becoming the most successful group in Motown’s storied history, The Temptations – under the leadership of Otis Williams – went through several name changes and a variety of singers before finally striking gold.

Finding themselves in direct competition with The Supremes for status as Motown’s number one group, The Temptations capitalized on their precise harmonies and signature dance moves to produce 42 Top Ten Hits with 14 reaching Number One. These include such classics as “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Papa Was A Rollin Stone,” “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination,” all while fighting personal demons along with political unrest.

Written by three‑time Obie Award winner Dominique Morisseau, directed by two‑time Tony Award winner Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys), and featuring choreography by Tony nominee Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, On Your Feet), Ain’t Too Proud  features an electrifying cast led by standout performances from the talented Derrick Baskin and vocal powerhouse Ephraim Sykes. The musical supervision of John Miller and Kenny Seymour has the audience roaring with approval after each number.

All too often the Broadway musicals of today tend to be saturated with uninspiring songs and prosaic lyrics that do little to advance the narrative. Not so for Ain’t Too Proud, which is at its very best when the cast is channeling the pure musical magic of Motown.

BELLA NYC recently interviewed Dominique Morisseau:

Did being from Detroit influence your decision to take on this project?

Absolutely.  It was an opportunity to be the voice of this homegrown group and tell their story from the perspective of being built inside the city.  Often Detroiters feel like an afterthought or like the wallpaper of Detroit stories because rarely is the full character of the city integrated into stories about Detroit-bred artists.  This was my chance to right that wrong, so to speak.

What surprised you most about the history of The Temptations?

Learning about the cost that Otis paid by being the backbone of the group was incredible.  Also learning about their relationship to some of their most iconic songs, and the politics behind it, like “Ball of Confusion.”  I never knew how potentially dangerous it was for them to risk changing their sound as the nation was becoming more and more undone.

What were some of the challenges you faced while writing the book?

It really was a joy to work on this book.  I think my challenges were in being economical in the writing and the scenes.  I can be a very dense writer on my own and I love language and words, so being in a form where I have to relinquish the words and poetry in order to allow the music to be that, it was where I experienced the most revelation and growth.

What feedback have you received from audiences?

One of my favorite moments of audience reaction, besides the singing along and the sheer joy and unity that I sometimes experience, is the time when a woman from my hometown walked up to me to congratulate me on the show.  And with tears in her eyes, she smiles proudly at me and says, “Detroit’s on Broadway.” And we both squealed and hugged. It felt good for a thousand reasons.

Did you receive cooperation from Otis Williams throughout the project?

Absolutely.  He was our incredible and generous partner. He would tell stories to us and he would mentor and support the guys who play the Temps. He was a true gem to our creative process and to our entire show.

Why does the music of The Temptations withstand the test of time?

Because it is about the things that are timeless. Love. Pride. Pain. Injustice. Power. Soul. And Human connection. Their music helped to bridge a divided nation when they first were ascending.  And with our musical, we hope to be able to deliver this healing music again to a very divided nation. May it continue to work its unifying magic.

 

 

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