You know the songs through and through. You may even recall how important AM radio was, and the weekly top 10.
You also should remember how Motown was the soundtrack of a society tumbling through some hard times.
If you were not of its era, you still know the sound. It has never gone away. From those radio days up to every dance party and wedding of 2019, the beat goes on. And it is not likely to ever falter, even without the stratospheric boost it gets from “Ain’t Too Proud,” Broadway’s latest celebration of the American jukebox.
Director Des McAnuff’s staging celebrates the power and excitement of the music, and the theatricality of five men singing their hearts out, with their flashy choreography intact and thrilling.
The show arises from the published memoir of Otis Williams, a founding member of The Temptations. And Williams is our guide here, from the early days in Detroit, through a tangle of conflicts, to stardom — hit after hit — and the inevitable cautionary toll of the spotlight.
That’s the way for “Ain’t Too Proud” as the pressures put upon the group drive it straight into the heartfelt dynamics of their classic R&B songs.
This structure allows for 31 concert-style musical numbers to be strong together by the interspersed challenges that befall the group, and the society at large.
These ordeals come at a price, a sobering counterpoint to the feverish magic of the music.
These infectious hits are staged to maximum impact, and the results are bedazzling. “Ain’t Too Proud” is far more than a valentine to the group and its music. The show is an elevation, and a rebirth.
The original Temptations (Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin) are played here by Derrick Baskin, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope and Ephraim Sykes — a super-group of performers themselves. Each man gets his moment and more, but the clout of the group is proven far greater than the sum of its talented parts.
McAnuff shrewdly uses the impact of the group ideal as the show builds to its climax, a lift enhanced by music director Kenny Seymour and choreographer Sergio Trujillo. We get a rousing, graphic demonstration of the group’s power.
The show never feels like a mere collection of pop success. Perhaps due to the breadth of The Temptations catalog, the presentation of individual songs seems tantalizingly short, as the hits keep on coming, and coming.
In keeping with the concert feel, the show adds The Supremes and Tammi Terrell to the bill as they drop in for a couple of numbers. This overflow is balanced by the hard times outside the recording studio.
The realities of the ‘60s and beyond are part of the group’s forward progress, as their music remains, to soar above all the heartache of its origins.
Despite its title, “Ain’t Too Proud” gleams with the pride of a job very well done.