“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.
When not out reviewing for us, our team attend many more shows which they’d love to tell you about. Take a look at what they’ve been seeing recently
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An interrogative and harrowing verbatim piece on a despicable homophobic murder that explores the attitudes of the town in which it occurred with frankness, intimacy, and hope. The performances are sublime in their service of the text and there are some truly striking visual moments too. Just make sure to bring tissues – you will cry.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN | ★★★★ | Noël Coward Theatre until 30th May 2020 | Seen by Flora Doble | Photo by Matthew Murphy
The hotly-anticipated Broadway transfer of Dear Evan Hansen has finally arrived at the Noël Coward Theatre in London. Exploring mental health, suicide and the social media abyss, Dear Evan Hansen is a groundbreaking and powerful piece of theatre that will hopefully help facilitate important conversations about depression, anxiety and youth suicide.
THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE | ★★★★★ | Bridge Theatre until 2nd February 2020 | Seen by Katre | Photo by Brinkhoff Moegenburg
A beautiful, magical production with superb puppets and an amazing multi-talented cast. A really special show..
SOLARIS | ★★★★ | Lyric Hammersmith until 2nd November 2019 | Seen by Dominica Plummer | Photo by Mihaela Bodlovic
A lyrical, thought provoking, but somewhat disappointing adaptation by David Greig, of Stanisław Lem’s classic science fiction novel. In the eerie presence of the sentient planet Solaris, an orbiting space station sent from Earth experiences the inexplicable. Greig updates this unforgettable story by adding a female protagonist to a crew trying to avoid madness a long way from home and from those they have left behind. Or have they? Enjoyed for superlative performances and a memorable set design that alternates between the bright clean lines of the space station and the moody seascapes of the planet below.
LUNGS | ★★★★★ | The Old Vic until 9th November 2019 | Seen by Dominica Plummer | Photo by Helen Maybanks
The Old Vic’s revival of Duncan Macmillan’s eco love story reunites Claire Foy and Matt Smith in a seamless two hander about a couple considering parenthood in a world on the brink of climate change. Macmillan’s script holds up well and Foy and Smith recreate the onstage chemistry that ups the stakes in this timely drama. It was a treat to see the traditional Old Vic create an intimate theatre in round so that everyone in the audience could feel that much closer to this conflicted couple and their story.
SHOOK | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse until 23rd November 2019 | Seen by Dominica Plummer | Photo by The Other Richard
Samuel Bailey’s Papatango prizewinning play is performed to great effect in a gritty, naturalistic setting about three young offenders who are also parents. Bailey’s play is an absolute gift to powerhouse performers like Josh Finan, Ivan Oyik and Josef Davies, with good support from Andrea Hall playing their empathetic teacher. Bailey’s tale may lack a satisfying denouement in this memorable portrait of prison life, but his talent for dialogue and characterisation will ensure him a devoted following for whatever he chooses to write next.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN | ★★★★ | Piccadilly Theatre until 4th January 2020 | Seen by Rebecca Crankshaw | Photo by Brinkhoff Moegenburg
Sharon D Clarke and Wendell Pierce give powerhouse performances in Arthur Miller’s classic drama.
GHOST QUARTET | ★★★★ | Boulevard Theatre until 4th January 2020 | Seen by Jonathan Evans | Photo by Marc Brenner
An intoxicating, bizarre and sometimes baffling musical. The narrative threads weave themselves into knots, but the gorgeous score of this song cycle lines the show with magic. Magic that is matched by this impressive new venue in the heart of Soho.
ON BEAR RIDGE | ★★★★ | Royal Court until 23rd November 2019 | Seen by Jonathan Evans | Photo by Mark Douet
Riveting, off-beat theatre that takes you to another place. Surreally dark, shone through with stunning performances.
MARY POPPINS | Preview Performance | Prince Edward Theatre until 7th June 2020 | Seen by Chief Spy | Photo by Mark Douet
The all time classic returns with its incredible score, magnificent staging and an outstanding cast including the legendary Petula Clark. You’re guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN | Preview Performance | Noël Coward Theatre until 30th May 2020 | Seen by Chief Spy | Photo by Matthew Murphy
The winner of six Tony Awards finally arrives in the West End and the wait has definitely been worth it. Steven Levenson’s book combined with Pasek & Paul’s outstanding score make this the show to see. This performance had Marcus Harman in the lead role proving he’s an exceptional alternate Evan.
“The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable” just one of many typically Walden witticisms that sparkled like fireworks at this performance. Perhaps no surprise that it’s deeply sympathetic to the eponymous character, well-played by Liza Goddard. There’s a hint of grimly controlled madness about her performance, with her off-kilter stance and dress, with some real poetry in her speeches. To the audience’s satisfaction, she turns the tables on her nemesis. Directed by Dominic Dromgoole. Roy Hudd and Isla Blair also appear in this witty and thought provoking show.