Center Theatre Group presents a musical about the Motown singing group, the Temptations here in Los Angeles before heading to Broadway in the Spring.
“Ain’t Too Proud,” a musical about the life and times of the iconic singing group the Temptations, will be playing in downtown Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre until Sunday, Sept. 30.
The musical takes us from the very beginning when Otis Williams was just a teenager in Detroit, trying to find the right sound and most importantly, the right group. Throughout the show, we see his journey in meeting Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams and David Ruffin. It tells the story of their brotherhood, music, families, health and more. Audience members go through a range of emotions as the musical takes us through all of the high and low-points of the Temptations.
“If you think that you know everything about the Temptations, you might be surprised. There are such intense scenes and the way this is written, it’s like dinner and you eat it to be nourished,” said James Harkness, who plays Paul Williams. “The songs are so funky, the choreography is fire and the audiences are great. We’ve had fantastic audiences all the way through and it seems like they just get better as they go.”
“Ain’t Too Proud” made its first appearance at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre last year, in Aug. 2017. From that first run, it has received great reviews and opportunities to tour around the country. The musical has been performed at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., here in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre and is set to go to Toronto, Canada next and to New York City on Broadway after. The actors are performing to sold out crowds all over and our Los Angeles audiences have brought out some Hollywood celebrities. Debbie Allen, John Legend, Berry Gordy and more have come out to support. Shelly Berger, who was the manager of the Temptations, along with Otis Williams, the only living original member of the Temptations, have also been in attendance at the Ahmanson.
“This crowd are true Temptations fans and they come with the nostalgia, and knowing that’s Melvin, that’s Eddie, that’s David. And they will tell you exactly if you were on or off, you can’t fake the funk with them,” said Jawan M. Jackson, who plays Melvin Franklin.
There’s no need to fake the funk as each actor naturally embodies some aspects the characters played. For Jawan M. Jackson, he relates to Melvin Franklin through his friendly and outgoing personality, while Ephraim Sykes relates to David Ruffin in them both being sons of preachers. Derrick Baskin, who plays Otis Williams, and James Harkness, who plays Paul Williams, both noticed that they have similar outlooks on work and entertaining to their characters. Jeremy Pope’s familiarity, however, came from meeting Eddie Kindrick’s daughter and other people close to him. Along with meeting people who knew the Temptations, the Temptation’s very own, Otis Williams, was very instrumental in mentoring the actors. They were able to text and call him for any information or tips.
“It was amazing talking with Otis and hearing stories about his life. There’s no better source when playing someone than the person themselves,” said Baskin, who plays Otis. “He’s really been helpful with all of us learning the connection that the five of them had and creating our own connection with each other.”
Having similar personalities is a plus, but the actors also had to do major preparation. All five said that dancing and singing as well as the Temptations was the hardest part of preparing for their roles. The Temptations sung with soul where you could hear the emotion behind the lyrics. Then in their upbeat songs, they would dance with every movement on beat and synchronized with knee drops, splits and more. One move that David Ruffin does was a must for Ephraim Sykes to learn.
“David was a smooth mover. One of the first things that Otis told me when meeting him at the first workshop was, ‘Man you’re good as David, but there’s one thing that he could do that I never seen any other artist do. He’d take the microphone and throw it up in the air and he’d turn around and catch it, do a split, come back up and keep singing.’” said Sykes, who plays David. “He said, ‘If you can do that, you can be David,’ and I told him, ‘I got you Otis.’”
The musical takes audiences through hits like “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” and even a few songs from the Supremes and other Motown artists. It also tackles racial injustice and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. with a chilling performance of, “I Wish it Would Rain.”
“This story is a major part of our American History. These men were such a big part of the civil rights era music and aside from that, it’s a really great time,” said Pope, who plays Eddie. “We dance, we sing, and we really get in to the connections and relationships that they had.”