Brittny Smith in Ainít Too Proud
Photo: Emilio Madrid

Broadway Across Canada
Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations

When & Where September 12 to 17, 2023, evenings 8pm, Sat & Sun matinees at 2pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver

Director Des McAnuff Choreography Sergio Trujillo Music Director Jonathan Smith Music Coordinator John Miller Scenic Design Robert Brill Costume Design Paul Tazewell Sound Design Steve Canyon Kennedy Lighting Design Howell Binkley Production Stage Manager Nicole Olson

Reviewer John Jane

The arrival of Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations has been eagerly awaited by Vancouver theatergoers. This beautifully slick 2019 Broadway biographical musical has the fullest R&B songbook that any audience could wish for. The Broadway Across Canada touring production opened a six-day (8 performances) run at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Tuesday.

The show’s subtitle “The Life and Times of the Temptations” is largely based on the autobiography of Otis Williams, the group’s founder and de facto leader. Jeremy Kelsey (in place of Michael Andreaus on this night) in the role of Otis capably leads the twenty-member cast, as well as taking on responsibility of the story-telling.

With their potent mix of R&B, Soul and Pop vocals combined with precision choreography, The Temptations provided a blueprint for all boy bands that came later like: New Kids On The Block, New Edition, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC.

When first entering the auditorium, audience members get an inkling of the kind of polished production they can expect with five vertical spotlights in front of the primary set of the Detroit Fox Theatre displaying the group’s name in marquee 50 centimetre high letters.

Elijah Ahmad Lewis and the cast of Ain't Too Proud
Photo: Emilio Madrid

As expected, many of the show’s thirty-one songs are Temptation “hits” starting with “The way you do the things you do.” Nonetheless, particularly early in the first act, some nostalgia is provided with the Five Satins’ “Thrill of the Night” and The Cadillac’s Doo-Wop “Gloria.” The audience received a special gift when former Motown girl group, The Supremes is feted with a medley of three songs. One of the show’s oddities (and there were a few) was the duet between Tammi Terrell and David Ruffin (Shayla Brielle G. and Elijah Ahmad Lewis) – “If I Could Build my Whole Life Around you” – it was actually recorded by Terrell and Marvin Gaye.

While the show centres mainly on the Temptations founding members, it does offer a kind of “warts-and-all” narrative around the group’s personnel changes; particularly the hiring and eventual firing of the hugely talented, but temperamental David Ruffin. His four years (1964-1968) with the group are considered by Smokey Robinson as the group’s best.

Elijah Ahmad Lewis certainly delivers as the volatile Ruffin; both in terms of the singer’s charisma and vocal range. Jalen Harris is terrific as the headstrong lead tenor Eddie Kendricks. Harris has come a long way since his time on American Idol. E. Clayton Cornelious acquits himself well as the rather frail baritone Paul Williams (no relation to Otis). Among the supporting cast, I really liked Brittney Smith in the dual roles as Mary Wells and the cartoonish manager Johnnie Mae.

Ain’t Too Proud is entertaining theatre with some excellent performances and an engaging back story. Otis Williams, now eighty-one years old , is the sole-surviving member of the original Temptations. His story is not just of success, but also of survival and sacrifice.

© 2023 John Jane