I wasn’t exactly sleeping through the 1960s and ’70s, but I seem to have missed many of the pop tunes and great combos that found their place at the time.
I blush to admit that I did not know that the full title of one of The Temptations hit recordings is “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.” The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame now includes the names Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, David Ruffin, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Dennis Edwards — six of the musicians who were major in the group who had more number one hits than any other.
In 1960 the “Elgins” was formed, and transformed into “The Pirates,” but finally found its proper name in 1964 when “The Temptations” arrived on the scene. Hits like “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud,” “I Wish It Would Rain” were everywhere on radio and TV, on single records and albums. They all sailed right by me as I (during those 20 years) had found my groove in the theater music of Kander and Ebb, Jerry Herman, Adams and Strouse, Bock and Harnick — having fallen for their immediate predecessors Rodgers and Hammerstein, Frank Loesser, Jule Styne, Lerner Loewe. When it came to music, I was strictly a Broadway baby.
So I approached the Imperial Theatre, the lobby of which brought back memories of “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Call Me Madam,” “Cabaret,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” and a dozen other musicals, all of which were equipped with original scores. The juke box musicals had only recently arrived on the scene (there had always been one or two, but now they are the norm) and most of them sailed past me. “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Jersey Boys,” “Beautiful,” are among those that reached out to fans of pop tunes as well as the Broadway mavens of which I am one. And now, here to join them, is “Ain’t Too Proud, The Life and Times of The Temptations” to cross over into that esteemed company.
Under the assured direction of Des McAnuff and the vibrant choreography of Sergio Trujillo with the top notch assistance of Robert Brill and Howell Binkley on scenery and lighting, they have mounted a gorgeous and glamorous musical which is performed by seven major talents who have transformed themselves into the titled “Temptations.” From the opening title song to “You’re My Everything” an evening of visual splendor and never-ending magic in the staging has been organized to include over 30 songs, many of which were recognized and welcomed by the well informed audience. I, of course, could not join them in that; but I was right there with them during the show-stopping applause that followed many of them.
The book writer Dominique Morisseau is a product of the Public Theatre’s Emerging Writers Group. She’s put together a complex story about the origins and even the endings of the various men who joined the group. The harmony among them; the problems that arose as well; it’s all there on stage.
Derrick Baskin, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Ephraim Sykes all contribute magnificently as “The Temptations,” but each has his moment as soloist and as principal when his particular story becomes the focus. Jahi Kearse and Joshua Morgan figure prominently as Berry Gordy and Shelly Berger as publisher and agent. The ensemble supplies others to replace those who leave, and the music never stops.
If you’ve followed the Temptations through the years, you’ll have a fine time remembering and reliving some big moments in your past. If like me, you’re a newcomer to their world, you’ll connect as one does when something first rate is served up. And those connected with its creation should certainly not be too proud to crow over this bright new musical.