In the roles of the Temptations are (from left) Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams Jr., Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin, Harrell Holmes Jr. as Melvin Franklin and James T. Lane as Paul Williams. The National Touring Company of "Ain't Too Proud" will be at the Kennedy Center until Jan. 16. (Courtesy photo)

When the music began for “Ain’t Too Proud,” childhood memories began swirling in my head. Lifted by beats and lyrics, the musical took me back to when we rushed to buy the latest 45 records, to basement parties and when we sang the latest R&B hits with friends. 

We were excited when a Motown group was on television. Let’s not forget the box office line at the Howard Theatre for a show when the lineup included a Motown group. In a word, the audience was ready. The musical, now at the Kennedy Center in Northwest, continues through Jan. 16.

“The songs in the Temptations musical could be released today and still be hits,” said Michael Andreaus, who portrays Motown CEO Berry Gordy Jr. “They say if a song doesn’t catch you in the first 10 seconds, then it’s not a hit.” 

Gordy served as the captain who steered the careers of the Temptations and other Motown acts like the Supremes, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Stevie Wonder and The Jackson Five. 

Based on “The Temptations,” the autobiography by group founder Otis Williams, “Ain’t Too Proud” takes us from Williams’ dreams of a group to name changes for the group to finally getting a chance to record hit songs at Motown. The group’s first big hit, “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” would be followed by “My Girl.” Those chart-topping songs created competition between two of Motown’s top songwriters, Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield.

Not all of the songs in the musical count as hits from the Temptations. Tunes by other Motown and non-Motown acts perfectly illustrate the emotions of the characters and harken back to the era. The scenic design incorporated theater marques where the Temptations and other Motown groups performed with newspaper headlines from the civil rights movement replicated on stage in bright, bold colors.

“I had never thought about the fact that even though they were popular, there was a color barrier to cross over to white audiences,” said Temptations fan Nona Smoke from Ft. Washington, Maryland. “Their goal was to succeed but also they were concerned about what they could do to assist the movement.”

Music kept the audience engaged throughout the production even as original members left and new Temptations joined the group. Like me, some audience members were surprised by facts they were hearing for the first time in “Ain’t Too Proud.” We felt the heartbreak.

To prepare, the touring company had lunch with Williams. Hearing from the Temptations founder made it all real. The grueling road to success while trying to manage relationships and stave off demons came through as convincingly raw emotions from the actors in “Ain’t Too Proud.” The meeting with Williams must have helped.

“Otis shared stories from the road and about the development of the Temptations,” Andreaus said. “Berry never gave up on him, even when a record did not become a hit.”

“I got a lot of detail on the lives of individuals I never knew,” said Arthur Edwards, another longtime Temptations fan who lives in the District. “Knowing that Smokey wrote a lot of the tunes and how they lived their lives, I loved it.”

“Ain’t Too Proud” serves as a good time for all. The Broadway production won a Tony Award for choreography. Still, many steps in this production seemed more aggressive than those smooth, elegant steps created by Motown house choreographer Cholly Atkins between 1964 and the late 80s.

“I’m so glad we get to present this to the people,” Andreaus said. To see people be transported by some of their favorite songs and see the memories in their faces, it’s irreplaceable.”

“Ain’t Too Proud” continues at the Kennedy Center through January 16. For ticket information, visit the Kennedy Center website https://www.kennedy-center.org  

SOCIAL MEDIA

The Washington Informer

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Brenda Siler

Twitter and Instagram: @bcscomm

Ain’t Too Proud

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AintTooProudMusical

Instagram: @ainttooproudmusical

Twitter: @AintTooProud

Motown Records (Classic Motown)

Facebook: https://classic.motown.com

Twitter: @ClassicMotown

Instagram: @motownrecords

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ClassicMotownChannel

Michael Andreaus (Berry Gordy in “Ain’t Too Proud”)

Instagram: @ michael_andreaus

Twitter: @MichaelAndreaus

Brenda C. Siler

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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