Review of ‘Ain’t Too Proud’: “Shakey ground”

The beat of Detroit stomps into the West End in this freshly arrived musical about the story of The Temptations. Guillermo Nazara shares his thoughts on this new show featuring some of the most iconic R&B songs in history, to let us know how good was the way they did the things they did.

Lady Soul. I’ve always thought that would have been the perfect name for me if I went drag. If… (mother’s reading). But today we’re talking about some other kind of turmoil – basically because I’m still not prepared to deal with my personal life… Welcome to the story of The Tempations! A tale of struggle, commitment and eventual success – not prevented from spilling more than few drops of blood on the carpet (figuratively).

Both a music and social revolution, the rise and partial fall of one of the most influential American groups in history has been brought to the stand, to testify through the words and melodies that made them that ultimate hit. Marketed as coming “from the creators of Jersey Boys” (review of the London production available here), the promise is pretty much followed both in style and content. Once again, we get the “real” story from one of the members of the band (Otis), exploring the trials and tribulations that found the unsteady grounds of a happy-looking artistic career.

Both themes and narration serve their purpose, offering us an intricate look into the companionship and discord that flavoured and paved their path to stardom. Presenting us with an honest recount on the bittersweet facts shadowed by the spotlight, the book (credit to Dominique Morisseau) manages to create a cohesive, seamless account through a well-outlined selection of its musical dialogues and acceptably crafted dialogue. Unfolded with enough good pacing, the only defect found in its writing is, however, a slight lack of heart – bringing sufficient emotion to the material, but somehow failing to let it feed from it.

Directed by Des McAnuff, the show features a visually-enticing production, taking the black-box concept to a different perspective through the creation of brick-studded space where separate props and elements complete the staging. Designed by Robert Brill, the setting relies on a continuous use of screen and projections – a late trend in theatrical sketching which I’ve particularly never been a fan of. Nonetheless, never say never – especially when it’s carried out in such an elaborate and, to some degree, imaginative way. Brill’s approach is far from the lazy perception that LED surfaces are usually associated with, creating rich visuals by giving personality and independence to the resources – resulting in a documentary-styled performance that furthers the truthfulness of the piece.

The cast, on its hand, is the other great addition of this production. Proving quite competent acting skills, it’s however (as anybody would expect and wish for) their remarkable singing that are the real stand-out. From the silvery allure of Otis Williams and David Ruffin’s signature warbling (conveyed, in this case, through the Sifiso Mazibuko and Tosh Wanogho-Maud’s staggering vocals) to Cameron Bernard Jones’s intoxicating rendition as bass Melvin Franklin, the superb quality of the whole company leaves no room for dispute when it comes to their musical abilities – both talent and passion merging into what sincerely makes of this montage an actual extravaganza.

Ain’t Too Proud is not humble or discreet when it comes to pay homage to the lives of those small men who wrote one of the greatest chapters of music history. Why should it be? To all of those who have been fans of this group, this is too tantalizing a treat to resist. Just remember that even if you’ve been rehearsing the entire repertoire in the shower for weeks before attending, the rest of the audience does NOT need to know – regardless of what some telly personalities may think. And if you find somebody not giving a dang about basic theatre etiquette, like it happened to me… well, you can’t blame me for being Mediterranean.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

All pictures credit to Johan Persson.

Ain’t Too Proud plays at London’s Prince Edward Theatre from Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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