AIN’T TOO PROUD at the Prince Edward Theatre
“great songs, sensational dance but lacks emotional content”
Ain’t Too Proud, described as The Life and Times of The Temptations, directed by Tony-award winner Des McAnuff, and based on founder band member Otis Williams’ own memoir, is a whistle-stop journey through the history of the band from Otis’s discovery of music as a way off the Detroit streets, to becoming part of one of the most successful R&B groups of all time.
Otis tells us of his ambitions from the outset, “Singing is going to be my salvation” and the ethos of his group is that of all band members are brothers, “We all men, we all equal”. As the demanding life on the road, and the usual reliance on drink and drugs, takes its toll on the group, this maxim is severely tested. But, in essence, there isn’t a lot of life depicted on the journey and only a cursory look at the times. What there is, is some sensational song and dance routines.
The tour de force of this show is the outstanding Sifiso Mazibuko as Otis Williams. Stepping in and out of the song and dance line to narrate the story without missing a beat, he is close to ever-present throughout and if he begins to show signs of flagging by the finish, we can put it down to the aging of his character.
The opening half of the show though lacks spark. The songs are excellently performed and look amazing, but they are presented in small snatches, an accompaniment to the narrated story, which in itself does not excite. This begins to change with the arrival of the unpredictable David Ruffin (Tosh Wanogho-Maud) into the band and The Temptations’ first number one hit, My Girl. Some extra colour is provided with the inclusion of a three-song medley from The Supremes, described by Otis as The Temptations’ main rivals, which is one of the first act highlights. And as an example of how the songs reflect the narration, the group sings If You Don’t Know Me By Now just as Otis and his wife Josephine (Naomi Katiyo) split up.
As the group becomes more successful and looks to cross-over into the mainstream, a question is raised as to whether they are doing enough for fighting racial inequality. A clause in the band’s performing contract means their audience must not be racially segregated but the vital question is left open as monochrome projections show images of Detroit and Memphis ablaze, followed by the assassination of Martin Luther King.
Extra poignancy is found in the second half with the suicide of singer Paul Williams (Carl Cox) and images of the Vietnam conflict accompanied by a snatch of War (What is it Good For). The musical performance gets a lift too with longer song numbers, and a light show, particularly with the Reunion Tour and seven singers on stage rather than the usual five. The over-extended story of recording Papa Is A Rolling Stone becomes connected with Otis’s own story of missing his son growing up but any empathy is quickly swallowed up into the outstanding final number.
Ain’t Too Proud has great songs, sensational dance but lacks emotional content.
Reviewed on 19th April 2023
by Phillip Money
Photography by Johan Persson
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