Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Kennedy Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of On the Town

Jawan M. Jackson, Derrick Baskin, Jeremy Pope,
James Harkness, and Ephraim Sykes

Photo by Doug Hamilton
Jukebox musicals are always an uncertain proposition, but Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, now in the Eisenhower Theater at Washington's Kennedy Center, looks and sounds like a winner. If it isn't up to the gold standard for bio-musicals set by Jersey Boys, it was created by the same director (Des McAnuff) and choreographer (Sergio Trujillo) and delivers what it promises.

Ain't Too Proud follows the history of the Temptations, the Motown quintet still performing after more than 50 years, from the perspective of Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin), the only original member still performing with the group; Williams' book was the basis for the musical's book by Dominique Morisseau. He talks about how the group released 24 singles before hitting the charts and says, portentously, "We made history together, but there's no progress without sacrifice." Fortunately, McAnuff's direction and Morisseau's writing keep things from getting too grim.

Baskin provides the throughline, but Ephraim Sykes brings lightning to the stage as David Ruffin, the lead singer whose ego ultimately overshadows his talent. Sykes has a voice that commands respect and an amazing way with Trujillo's dance moves, specifically the way he can go into and out of a split in seconds. The rest of the "original five" lineup are James Harkness as sensitive Paul Williams (no relation to Otis), deep-voiced Jawan M. Jackson as Melvin Franklin, and smooth Jeremy Pope as Eddie Kendricks.

The plot follows the Temptations through both personal difficulties and political upheavals. "Outside, the world was exploding, and inside, so were we," Otis says: as Detroit fell to riots, the group wanted to take on more controversial material, but Motown boss Berry Gordy (Jahi Kearse) was more interested in maintaining their crossover appeal. Along the way, group members dealt with cocaine addiction, alcoholism, and chronic illness, disagreements over billing and salaries, even the possibility that two former members would try to form a rival group using the Temptations name—but the music and the sleek, synchronized choreography are what's really important.

The production design looks ready for Broadway: Robert Brill's scenic design finds numerous ways to use a limited number of set pieces, Howell Binkley's lighting design and Peter Nigrini's projection design bring scenes of life outside the studio into focus, and Paul Tazewell's costumes are dead-on, from a succession of well-tailored suits in vivid colors for the Temptations to the glittering, form-fitting gowns for the Supremes. Music director Kenny Seymour leads an impassioned orchestra through more than 30 Motown classics and is part of a staging trick during the finale that demands a standing ovation.

Kennedy Center
Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
June 19th - July 22nd, 2018
Book by Dominique Morisseau
Music and lyrics from the Legendary Motown Catalog
Based on the book The Temptations by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski
Otis Williams: Derrick Baskin
Paul Williams: James Harkness
Melvin Franklin: Jawan M. Jackson
Eddie Kendricks: Jeremy Pope
David Ruffin: Ephraim Sykes
Al Bryant and others: Jarvis B. Manning Jr.
Johnnie Mae and others: Taylor Symone Jackson
Berry Gordy and others: Jahi Kearse
Smokey Robinson and others: Christian Thompson
Diana Ross and others: Candice Marie Woods
Josephine and others: Rashidra Scott
Tammi Terrell and others: Nasia Thomas
Shelly Berger and others: Joshua Morgan
Dennis Edwards and others: Caliaf St. Aubyn
Richard Street and others: E. Clayton Cornelious
Lamont and others: Shawn Bowers
Directed by Des McAnuff
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
Music direction and arrangements by Kenny Seymour
Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC
Ticket Information: (800) 444-1324 or (202) 467-4600 or