The latest in a long line of jukebox musicals to be impeccably performed but dead behind the eyes – Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations opens at the Prince Edward Theatre
“Momma I’m depending on you to tell me the truth”
What a moment to be opening a new jukebox musical… As endless debates rage about audience behaviour and the culpability (or otherwise) of this particular sub-genre, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations launches onto the wide stage of the Prince Edward Theatre as the latest in a long line of the Jersey Boys-style bio-drama/concert performance which is, of course, the far less imaginative route to take when it comes to these jukebox shows.
It’s a good while since I’ve seen Jersey Boys itself but I wasn’t a fan then and as I’ve taken in the Motown, On Your Feet!, Get Up Stand Up!, The Drifters Girl and more, there’s a depressing recurrence of the same issues. Glitzy productions led by strong casts delivering some exceptional vocal performances, papering over the cracks of the flimsiest of sanitised, selective books, deathly afraid to touch anything controversial about its subject (often due to their involvement, or that of their estate).
Such is the case here. Dominique Morisseau’s book pulls from Otis Williams’ memoir, co-authored by Patricia Romanowski, and as a founding (and only surviving) member of the Temptations, it handcuffs the narrative to his perspective and his interpretation of events – his avatar here literally narrates at times. The result is a story that is depressingly lacking in detail – the social context of era-defining events paid scant lip service, biographical insights into his fellow band members ushered off-stage on an actual conveyor belt less they scuff up the glossy presentation.
That’s not to deny the strong work from the central five – Sifiso Mazibuko’s Otis Williams, Cameron Bernard Jones’s Melvin Franklin, Kyle Cox’s Paul Williams, Tosh Wanogho-Maud’s David Ruffin and Mitchell Zhangazha’s Eddie Kendricks are all appealingly done, particularly in the swish moves of Sergio Trujillo’s choreography. But Des McAnuff’s production can’t hide the complete lack of dramatic dynamism or storytelling intent, beyond providing a shiny new vehicle for some of the greatest music ever composed.