Review: ‘Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations’ at Golden Gate Theatre (****)

by Charles Kruger

Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

Fiddle Lee Dee, Fiddle Lee Dum, look out, baby, here they come!

The pretty much irresistible appeal of “The Temptations” is legendary, and this tribute musical captures the excitement. If it doesn’t get your heart pumping, better call the doctor, because you’re practically a corpse.

I won’t say this production is flawless. For one thing, it is a bit overlong. For another, the Hollywood treatment of the story-line is a bit too much by-the-book.

But really, who cares? The singing, the dancing, the musicianship, and the joy more than make up for any problems. If you like the music of The Temptations (and who doesn’t?), you will be delighted.

The “plot” of this musical is narrated by Otis Wells (very well-played by Broadway veteran Marcus Paul James) who wrote the book on which the musical is based. Covering the entire history of the band, it places a particular focus on the story of charismatic but troubled lead singer, David Ruffin, played by Elijah Ahmad Lewis. Not only could Lewis pass for Ruffin on the street (the iconic eye glasses help), but his recreation of Ruffin’s performances have a spine-tingling accuracy. He is altogether excellent.

The production features thirty plus Temptations songs, and it is astonishing to realize that almost every one was instantly recognizable to this reviewer, a casual fan.

It is not just music, however. The acting is excellent throughout, with many interesting dramatic scenes skillfully directed by the always more-than-capable Des McAnuff. Sergio Trujillo won a well-deserved Tony Award for the choreography, which is fabulously subtle, rather than flamboyant.

The large cast of singer/dancer/actors work as a seamless ensemble.

If you are like the audience who attended opening night, you will find it hard not to sing along, shout it out, raise your arms, and stamp your feet. Go right ahead! It’s that kind of a show.

“Ain’t Too Proud” plays at the Golden Gate Theatre through December 4, 2022. For further information, click here.

Rating: **** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” Book by Dominique Morisseau. Music and Lyrics from the Motown Catalog. Based on the book, “The Temptations by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski. Director: Des McAnuff. Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo. Orchestrations: Harold Wheeler. Music Supervsion: Kenny Seymour. Scenic Design: Robert Brill. Costume Design: Paul Tazewell. Lighting Design: Howell Brinkley. Sound Design: Steve Canyon Kennedy. Projection Design: Peter Negrini.

Cast: Otis Wiliams: Marcus Paul James. Paul Williams: James T. Lane. Melvin Franklin: Harrell Holmes, Jr. Eddie Kendricks: Jalen Harris. David Ruffin: Elijah Ahmad Lewis. Slick Talk Fella: Lawrence Dandridge. Straight Talk Fella: Dwayne P. Mirchell. “Gloria” Soloist Devin Holloway. Al Bryant: Brett Michael Lockeley. Mama Rose: Shayla Brielle G. Johnnie Mae: Traci Elaine Lee. Barry Gordy: Michael Andreaus. Smokey Robinson: Lawrence Dandridge. Interviewer: Devin Holloway. Diana Ross: Amber Mariah Talley. Florence Ballard: Shayla Brielle G. Mary Wilson: Traci Elaine Lee. Josephine: Nazjah Hetsberger. Tammi Terrell: Traci Elaine Lee. Shelly Berger: Reed Campbell. Norman Whitfield: Brett Michael Lockley. Delivery Man: Kevin Holloway. Dennis Edwards: Dwane P. Mitchell. Richard Street: Devin Holloway. Damon Harris: Lawrence Dandridge. Lamont: Gregory C. Banks, Jr. Ensemble: Michael Andreaus, Gregory C. Banks, Jr., Reed Campbell, Lawrence Dandridge, Shayla Brielle G., Najah Hetsberger, Kevin Holloway, Traci Elaine Lee, Brett Michael Lockley, Dwayne P. Mitchell, Amber Mariah Talley.

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