“Motown was the first sound I was introduced to musically,” says Dominique Morisseau. The Obie-winning playwright and MacArthur genius grant recipient was introduced to The Temptations by her parents, and now makes her Broadway debut writing the book for Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations, currently playing at the Imperial Theatre after officially opening March 21.
Directed by Des McAnuff, the musical traces the career of all-male Motown group The Temptations, who recorded such classics as “My Girl,” “Get Ready,” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”
“Their music is universal, it’s transcendent,” Morisseau says. “I’m not going to be able to satisfy everyone’s desires, but I’ve had audience members—of all races—come up to me and share their stories after, and I’m just like, ‘Whatever joy this is going to give you, I’m all for it!’”
Although Morisseau embraces audience members entering the theatre with their own memories, she’s not writing a nostalgia piece. She is more interested in highlighting the story’s connections to the present day.
“These are young, black artists navigating what their role is supposed to be as artists in a time when the world is in disruption,” she says. “How are they going to navigate their skin, their community, their ambition, and their brotherhood? We’re in a very divided place right now and music unites people. As artists, how do we navigate being the unifier? We ourselves feel very vulnerable and can feel very disposable to our own nation.”
The musical is based on the memoir of Temptations member Otis Williams, and Morisseau pushes to deepen moments and perspectives. This includes examining the pressure put on The Temptations to have crossover appeal—being successful in both black and white markets.
“Crossover comes with a cost. Think about what it means to tell a bunch of black men that the only real way for them to make real money and be successful is to be accepted in a white community. That it’s not good enough to only appeal to their own community. It means you have to change and quiet and tame some parts of who you are.”
It’s another idea Morisseau connects to the 2019 cast.
“It’s so liberating to watch these black men get up on this stage and wail, growl, and pierce in this music that doesn’t ask them to quiet their black male emotionality!”
No matter how well the audience knows The Temptations when they arrive at the theatre, they’ll leave with a deeper understanding of what informed them as artists—and people.