Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations at Prince Edward Theatre
In 1969 The Temptations made history as the first Motown group to win a Grammy. Now, 54 years later, their story has made its way from Detroit to the Prince Edward Theatre in London. Featuring performances of classics such as My Girl, Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone and the titular Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, this musical is bursting with energy and life.
The show is based on Otis Williams’s memoir about his time as a Temptation. It is thus fitting that Sifiso Mazibuko’s charismatic Otis acts as the narrator, tracking the group’s journey from its founding in Detroit through its multiple disbandments and reunions. The individuals that made up The Temptations changed many times over the tumultuous years, but the “core” of the group seems unanimously acknowledged to be Otis Williams (Mazibuko), Melvin Franklin (Cameron Bernard Jones), Paul Williams (Kyle Cox), Eddie Kendricks (Mitchell Zhangazha) and David Ruffin (Tosh Wanogho-Maud). Ain’t Too Proud focuses primarily on these five, highlighting their glories and struggles both as individuals and as members of the band.
The plot is likely to be fairly predictable to anyone who knows The Temptations’ history, or anyone familiar with the general trajectory of those who gain too much fame too quickly. Consequently, the vocals are definitely the high point of this performance – so strong are the musical numbers in fact that they make up for the sometimes meandering storyline.
Each of the actors brings an incredibly distinctive sound to the stage and to their character. Tosh Wanogho-Maud modulates between smooth and rasping timbre with ease, imitating the somewhere-between-sandpaper-and-honey Ruffin sound. Zhangazha has a soft quality to his voice, and a knack for falsetto that translates beautifully to his performance as the crooning Kendricks. Just as the real Temptations’ sound did, the unique qualities of the actors’ vocals blend in beautiful harmony on-stage. Highs balance out lows, and sweetness balances out power.
Like their voices, the band members’ lives are shown to be a mix of ups and downs, with moments of musical joviality interspersed with tragedy. Despite touching on serious themes such as addiction, suicide and the civil rights movement in America, the tone of Ain’t Too Proud remains hopeful. This production serves as a celebration of the group, their talent and their accomplishments amidst a plethora of obstacles. With phenomenal music, vigorous dance numbers and an overall abundance of charisma, Ain’t Too Proud will have audiences clapping, swaying and singing along.
Photo: Johan Persson
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations is at Prince Edward Theatre from 31st March until 1st October 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.