My Variety Review: Temptations Musical 'Ain't Too Proud...'
In the wake of the long-running “Jersey Boys” and the short-lived “Summer,” director Des McAnuff is back on Broadway with another show built around the song catalog of a music act — and although “Ain’t Too Proud” has all the right sounds and slick moves, this bio-musical of the R&B vocal group the Temptations is more “Summer”-conventional than “Jersey Boys”-fresh.
But polished performances, slick choreography (by Sergio Trujillio) and a slate of 31 Motown tunes should satisfy audiences who might not be looking for probing storytelling, as long as the show delivers well-performed hits. That it does, as it centers on the story of the classic quintet of performers singing “Cloud Nine,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” ”My Girl,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and the title song, among others — including some songs that weren’t the group’s own.
Tapping hot playwright Dominique Morisseau (“Pipeline,” “Skeleton Crew“) to write the musical’s book raises expectations for a show with a strong point of view, an overriding theme, and writing that can soar, snap and create rich musical portraits. Instead the script delivers clichés and melodrama, with founding member and sole surviving singer of the original group Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin) earnestly delivering a kind of “Behind the Music” narration. (“We were beginning to learn the real cost of success,” he says portentously.)
There are brief nods to touring in the segregated South, to the assassination of Martin Luther King and to the Vietnam protests, but these feel more like timeline checkpoints than integrated scenes. The script also has the whiff of committee clearance, with hardly a single scene that confronts, challenges or surprises in any exceptional way, as if the libretto has to follow Motown’s mission of creating easily-digestible, crossover hits.