Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Ain't Too Proud (Broadway)


After a six-month stint at a juvenile center, Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin) is determined to turn his life around and finds the perfect inspiration for it through gospel music. He then starts gathering a select group of people to form his own band: co-Alabamian and perfect bass Melvin “Blue” Franklin (Jawan M. Jackson); rival duo Eddie Kendricks (Jeremy Pope) and Paul Williams (James Harkness); and charismatic tenor David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes) to complete the classic five of what would become one of Motown’s most successful acts, the Temptations. The jukebox musical chronicles the origins of the group as they navigate the music scene in Detroit, their own personal ups and downs as they deal with success as well as the many shakeups the band lineup has gone through from its inception all the way to the present, narrated through the point of view of Otis Williams by constantly breaking the fourth wall.

There is something about jukebox musicals that give off a certain type of appeal. Everything feels like a blend of biography or mockumentary a la Making the Band and a concert in an intimate venue. On one hand you learn a lot about the music act’s trajectory and the who’s-who in its history. On the other hand, you also get to enjoy the music that they have left as a legacy to the world regardless whether you are a fan or not. Since most of the musical numbers are just reiterations of real-life performances instead of attaching them to personal subplots a la Jagged Little Pill or Mamma Mia, they do feel like a legit concert.

 Jukebox musicals are no longer new. Jersey Boys is probably the most comparable material to this. The difference is that I can’t even remember either the storyline or the standout musical numbers in that show. Ain’t Too Proud, on the contrary, feels like a lot of those song and dance numbers will be living rent free in my head for quite some time, what with those memorable vocals those five have. The core storyline of a band’s life cycle is already passé at this point, but it’s the songs and how they are performed that really determine how the audience is going to remember this. The crowd simply adores Ain’t Too Proud.

As the lights turned back on, I realized that I was in a sea of grey and white-haired folks. I. See. Old. People. I have to say, though, that I Ain’t Too Proud to admit that this experience wouldn’t have been complete without them. While the actors and the musical itself brought me back to witness the ascent of The Temptations through the Billboard charts and gave me a rundown of their discography, it was this septua-/octogenarian crowd that offered me a glimpse of the audience impact this band had on their fans back in the day. Seeing them enjoying themselves so much was a legit showcase of fanbase dedication.

It comes as a bonus that the timeline of the band’s heydays coincided with other Motown headliners, and so we also get to see The Supremes perform some of their songs here. For those who are interested more in how the music industry operated back in the good old days, you also get a lot of input here regarding the decision-making process and how bands were shaped to be competitive in the airwaves.

As for the discography of The Temptations, I must admit that I only know one song of theirs: My Girl. Released in 1964 and hailed as the group’s first Billboard Hot 100 single, the recreation in this musical is surreal and was received with raves by the audience. Perhaps this is an indication that this is in fact the band’s biggest hit given its popularity across generations. Countless renditions might have also contributed to the song’s fame. As someone born in the 80’s, the only other two songs I recognized were Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone and If You Don’t Know Me By Now.

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