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Temptations musical hits all the right notes at the Jube


There were a lot of sweet sounds rolling through the Jube Tuesday night, at the opening of Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.

The Broadway Across Canada musical told the story of how one record label – Motown – and one band in particular (in fierce competition with The Supremes) – the Temptations – found a way during the turbulent 1960s to dominate the pop music charts at a time when it was nearly impossible for Black artists to get their records played on mainstream radio.

That's the political side of the story, which is set during the turmoil of the Vietnam War and the assassination of numerous American political leaders.

The actual show, however, prefers to deliver its message mostly through the magnificent music created by the "Temps", as the band members call themselves throughout the show.

The first act, which starts out in Detroit with Otis Williams (Michael Andreaus), an aspiring singer building a dream team of young singers in the early 1960s, features tunes such as "The Way You Do the Things You Do", "In the Still of the Night", "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" as the band builds a popular following by sticking to Motown founder Berry Gordy's tried and true formula to deliver love songs that leave the uncomfortable state of the American nation out of the musical equation.

Cast of Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations

Many of those tunes were written by Smokey Robinson (Derek Adams), himself a musical legend, and it's a winning formula for the Temps, after they enlist David Ruffin (Elijah Ahmad Lewis) to be their lead singer. Ruffin blows the roof off every venue the band performs in and, blended in with the gorgeous harmonies of the band, and the booming bass of Melvin Franklin (Harrell Holmes Jr.), the Temps climb the charts, hitting No.1 on their 24th try with "My Girl".

With a book by Detroit playwright Dominque Morisseau, Ain't Too Proud shuttles back and forth between a long stretch of career highlights and great tunes for the band, contradicted by behind-the-scenes dramas involving the abuse of various substances that you can probably guess.

Much of those substances go through lead singer Ruffin, whose ego balloons as the band's profile grows to a point where he is more liability than lead singer.

There's always tension bubbling near the surface in just about every band that ever lived, and with the Temps, there's problems between Williams, the founder, and other band members -- most notably Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris), who feels that Otis runs things and it's up to the rest of the Temps to follow his lead.

There's tension in the songwriters' room at Motown Records, too, between Gordy (Jeremy Kelsey) and Robinson's old-school approach to mainstream hit-making and the artists themselves, who embrace a new kind of songwriter like Norman Whitfield (Devin Price), who writes catchy tunes with not-so-mild titles like "War! (What is it good for?)" that the Temps lobby to perform but receive the thumbs-down from Gordy.

Ain't Too Proud to Beg - The Life and Times of the Tempations on at the Jubilee through Sunday. (Photo: Broadway Across Canada)

Eventually, as their fame builds and the cast of the Temptations rotates to work around the drugs and drinking and discontent, their song selection moves into darker – and even more successful – territory, on songs like "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?"

Otis manages to maintain continuity of a sort with Franklin (Harrell Holmes Jr.), who has a booming bass voice that sounds like the backbeat for a generation of R&B bands.

But even though he manages to avoid substance issues or personality conflicts, Franklin's health fails and he is forced to depart the band.

There's more jukebox that bully pulpit in Ain't Too Proud. It starts off with a lot of doo-wop and old-time hit songs and builds into a powerful, moving exploration of a musical movement that was more than a moment.

The Broadway Across Canada cast is tremendous, particularly Harris as Eddie, who might not have been the man in charge, but is sensational here.

When he sings "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" in a song smackdown with the Supremes on an NBC TV show, Harris hits all the right notes, much like Ain't Too Proud.

It's at the Jube through Sunday. For more information, go here. Top Stories

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