‘Ain’t Too Proud’ review: Temptations jukebox musical plays it safe

Christian Thompson, Saint Aubyn, Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, Jawan M James in "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations." 
Christian Thompson, Saint Aubyn, Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, Jawan M James in "Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations."  Photo Credit: Colter Hettich

‘Ain’t Too Proud’ plays an open run at the Imperial Theatre. 249 W. 45th St., ainttooproudmusical.com.

“Jersey Boys” meets “Motown” in “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,” the latest biographical/backstage rock and roll jukebox musical to hit Broadway and market itself to the baby-boomer demographic. And while not exactly profound or original, it makes for slick, straightforward, tuneful and altogether pleasant entertainment.

Six years ago, “Motown” celebrated a variety of music artists associated with Berry Gordy’s historic record label, including Diana Ross, The Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson and (of course) The Temptations. But whereas “Motown” was told from Gordy’s viewpoint and explored the music artists in an overstuffed and perfunctory manner, “Ain’t Too Proud” focuses in on the bumpy but successful career trajectory of The Temptations, seemingly using “Jersey Boys” (also directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo) as a template.

There have been many members of The Temptations over the years, but “Ain’t Too Proud” sticks primarily with the “Classic 5” lineup identified with the band’s 1960s heyday: Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin, “Memphis”), Paul Williams (James Harkness), Melvin Franklin (Jawan M. Jackson), Eddie Kendricks (Jeremy Pope, “Choir Boy”) and David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes).

The Motown environment at large is still present, with appearances made by Gordy (Jahi Kearse), Ross (Candice Marie Woods), Robinson (Christian Thompson), Mary Wilson (Taylor Symone Jackson) and Tammi Terrell (Nasia Thomas). The musical’s book (by playwright Dominique Morisseau, “The Detroit Projects”) is based on a biography by Otis Williams (which also served as the basis of a 1998 television miniseries). As such, the musical is told from the viewpoint of Williams, who serves as a narrator and presents himself as the most stable and selfless member of the group, whereas Eddie Kendricks and Paul Ruffins are depicted as hotheaded and unpredictable. By comparison, “Jersey Boys” allows each member of the group to take turns narrating and expressing their viewpoints.

An effort was made to bring up unsavory details including drug and alcohol addiction, physical abuse and violence, juvenile delinquency, family abandonment and racial prejudice. But by and large, this remains a by-the-numbers, self-glorifying, sanitized account of the band’s life and times.

That being said, the hit songs (including the title song, “My Girl,” “Cloud Nine,” “Get Ready,” “Just My Imagination” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”) keep on coming, along with active dance choreography that evokes the band’s distinctive synchronized movement. As far as biographical jukebox musicals go, “Ain’t Too Proud” is on par with “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” which is also derivative in nature but highly entertaining and polished.

The cast (which consists solely of African-American performers, with the exception of Joshua Morgan as manager Shelly Berger) is uniformly strong. Although Baskin’s job of feeding expository details to the audience is dry in nature, he brings a sense of vulnerability and sensitivity to one of the less flashy members of the group.

In a cute finishing touch evocative of “A Chorus Line,” the cast and orchestra appear together in elaborate matching costumes, suggesting an ever-expanding and inclusive universe of Temptations. It’s just too bad the costumes aren’t sold at the souvenir stand, which would have allowed audience members to join in.