Get ready, ’cause here it comes. Ain't Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations, Broadway’s latest bio-musical about the most successful group in Motown history, opened at the Imperial Theatre March 21—and has been named a New York Times Critic’s Pick.
As always, Playbill was on the scene moments after the opening night curtain came down to talk to the cast and creative team behind the production. The stars of the show, and book writer Dominique Morisseau—an Obie and MacArthur Genius Grant winner making her Broadway debut—revealed secrets behind the performances, numbers that were cut, and even showed off some dance moves from the musical.
In fact, Jawan M. Jackson had a wealth of knowledge about his character, Melvin Franklin—this being the second time he’s played the Temptation on Broadway. “During Motown [The Musical] and playing him I did all my research, so having to come back I said, ‘I actually get to tell the story—give it its just due’, because Melvin’s story needs to be told because he was such a generous loving guy.”
As we learn in Ain’t Too Proud, Melvin’s friends called him Blue. “People think that Blue came from that being his favorite color but it actually came from a song that he used to sing all the time that was called ‘Blue’ and everybody in the group, because he sang it so much, was like ‘We’re gonna call you Blue.’ So there’s artistic license we take on in the show,” Jackson confessed.
The cast had opportunities to learn more about the real Temptations from the last living member of the group: Otis Williams. Jeremy Pope, who plays Eddie Kendricks, remembers sitting in his hotel for about five hours just listening to him reminisce.
“Just to hear what these men had to go through—there was no rule book,” he told Playbill. But embodying the icon today also serves as a beacon of hope to audiences, Pope has come to realize. “I’m seeing what it’s doing for the old lady and the old brother in the audience that are weeping because we’re bringing back these icons for them for one night. This is the song they got engaged to or their wedding song or the young Black kid who’s looking at me with big eyes sitting on the edge of his seat because he’s seeing himself represented in a big hit musical with class.”
The Temptations were men of class and style—and not just in their clothing. The choreography from Sergio Trujillo (and associate Edgar Godineaux) calls on the athleticism and heart of these performers. James Harkness, who plays Temptation Paul Williams, says Trujillo’s style brings “masculinity, but there’s also fluidity in it as well. There’s a finesse to it, a specificity, and so he creates these incredible pictures. With a show about these five men who needed strength to go through the rising and the falls they went through, I think his choreography is perfect for this show.”
Trujillo choreographed another hit bio-musical: Jersey Boys. But, as Godineaux points out: “The Temptations were the originals.”
As the originals, The Temptations were forging their way in music in Detroit at the time of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Morisseau emphasizes the historical context and Detroit-specific setting in her story. “I think about my own journey as an artist right now and what it means for me to be doing this at a time where the nation is so divided and I think their story was very similar” she said. “They were making art happen and making their dreams come true and the nation was divided.
"For me, seeing how they have to navigate those things and realize that we’re standing on the shoulders of those people, this is nothing new that we’re going through and we should lean on their stories to figure out how to get through the things we’re going through now.”
Morisseau also revealed a tidbit about a song she loved that she had to cut from the show. “We had this song called ‘All I Need’ that Ephraim Sykes sings. He used to tear that song up. But it was like, 'How many songs do you need to tear it up on?' We got rid of it to make space for the Tammi Terrell song. So I call that a win.”
As for Sykes, he loves tearing it up onstage. “David was just a fun guy. He was the life of the party. He had the most confidence and swag,” he said. But he also plays the darker side of the legend. “I was able to study a man who I grew up loving and idolizing and learned so much about him and what he went through that created the sound. He had such a gorgeous rasp and this painful voice but it is his pain that he went through to make the sound that you hear.”
And there is a full ensemble of powerhouse performers telling the story of the pain, the sound, and the history surrounding the Temptations. We spoke to Joshua Morgan who plays Shelly Berger (The Temptations’ manager); Christian Thompson, who plays Smokey Robinson; Jarvis Manning who plays original Temptation Al Bryant and songwriter Norman Whitfield; Saint Aubyn who plays David Ruffin; ensemble member E. Clayton Cornelius, and Rashidra Scott who plays Josephine. Watch the full lives tream above.
Leading the cast—and practically never leaving the stage—is Broadway vet Derrick Baskin as Otis Williams. “When I got this role I didn’t know if I could actually tackle doing [it]....is such a monstrous piece,” he said. But with the other Temps by his side, he won’t look back. No, as far as Broadway goes, they’re floating on Cloud Nine.