Temptations musical returns ‘home’ to Detroit – The Oakland Press

During the final moments of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations,” the actor playing co-founder Otis Williams breaks the fourth wall – not for the first time during the show – to tell the audience that “I never wanted to be the last one standing. I thought my brothers would live forever.

Those other temptations are gone, of course. But Williams remains, and the Tony Award ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ – from his 1998 memoir ‘Temptations’ – is his testament to the turbulent and sometimes turbulent life and times of the Motown band whose wealth of successes endured for more than five decades since they were recorded, primarily in Detroit.

“I love it,” says Williams, 80, whose book also served as the basis for the TV miniseries “The Temptations,” over the phone from her home in Los Angeles. “I never imagined when (the Temptations) signed with Motown in 1961 that all of this would happen. All we ever wanted to do was sing, sing for the girls, make money, wear flashy clothes We didn’t think about 60 years later and what it would all mean.

“Now to be here and have the story on Broadway and now it’s on tour…it’s taken on a whole new dimension.”

Motown legends The Temptations are celebrating their 60th anniversary with a new album and a new tour. (Photo courtesy of Universal Music Enterprises)

The Temptations story certainly has enough material to build great drama out of any chosen medium. On the top echelon of iconic artists spawned by Motown, the quintet ranks No. 1 on Billboard’s list of Greatest R&B/Hip-Hop Artist of All Time with a record 71 Top 40 R&B hits – including 37 also made the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 and four of which (“My Girl”, “I Can’t Get Next To You”, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone “) reached No. 1. The Tempts have a pair of Grammy Awards under their belt, stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Apollo Theater Hall of Fame in Harlem, and inductions into rock and roll halls of fame. roll, vocal group and National Rhythm & Blues Music.

Williams says “Ain’t Too Proud” – the third Motown-inspired musical after “Dreamgirls” and “Motown: The Musical” – “has been a labor of love” for more than 20 years. It’s something he says longtime manager Shelly Berger had in mind “for some time”. It was put on hold in deference to “Motown: The Musical,” based on company founder Berry Gordy Jr.’s own memoir. “We’ve always been a competitive organization,” Williams acknowledges. “Timing can be everything, and we’re so glad we’ve waited to where it is.”

This time allowed Berger and Williams to find a strong creative team, which included famed Detroit playwright Dominque Morisseau and Tony Award-winning director Des McAnuff (“Big River,” “The Who’s Tommy,” “Jersey Boys”) . For Morisseau in particular, it was a natural choice – as well as an education and a chance to portray his hometown through the lens of one of his great exports.

“I had never thought about the role of Otis and all the men as artists during a time of civil unrest in the ’60s and how they struggled with that,” says Morisseau, 44, who boasts of being able to quote lines. from the mini-series “The Temptations”. She says reading Williams’ book during the busy times leading up to the 2016 presidential campaign brought new perspective to the group’s encounters with racism in the ’60s and gave ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ a footing. deeper than “just a bunch of guys singing songs.

“I also struggle with that now as an artist – how do we transcend this time we live in?” said Morisseau, whose fast-paced script covers a lot of ground without sacrificing depth and nuance. “And I think, ‘Well, damn, they had to go through this. They entered the world at a time when the world is falling apart. It’s incredible.

“So it meant something to me, to my generation and the generation that comes after me. It’s also our story because we relive a lot of those times, for better or for worse, and I hope we can find a way to use art to connect people like it did in the days of Motown.

Williams adds that “Dominique did a beautiful job of writing our rich history and bringing it to life and (she) will touch human emotion. It touched mine. I got calls saying, ‘Man, I didn’t know you’d been through all that,” traveling south and being called the N-word and all that. And we made it through. But it’s heavy.”

For Williams, in fact, “Ain’t Too Proud” has been an emotional rollercoaster. While the musical, which features around two dozen songs from the band, celebrates the success of the Temptations and Williams’ role as an ongoing guiding force, it also explores ego battles and interpersonal conflicts, as well as addictions. which tormented deceased members such as David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams. (Baritone Melvin Franklin battled rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and necrotizing fasciitis, while continuing to play with the band.)

And even though he had featured it on the page and put it on TV, Williams says having it on stage was heartbreaking at times.

“Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” runs from Tuesday, August 9 through August 28 at the Detroit Opera. (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Detroit)

“The second time we met, Dez said, ‘Otis, have you ever had to go through this deep, dark, retrospective thing yourself? “, Williams recalls. “Over the years I’ve learned to put down a lot of things… so as I’m recounting it, the tears started to well up and (Morisseau) grabbed that right arm, she said: “Go ahead, brother. Say it. I’m right here with you.”

“I said to Dez, ‘Why did you ask me to go?’ And he said, ‘Otis… it’s not all going to depend on (how) you had hits and the flashy move on stage. We want people to walk out of the place saying, ‘Wow, they’ve really been through this.’ »

Morisseau adds that “Even though this is based on Otis, it was important to me and (McAnuff) that we talked about the whole story. I really wanted to write this with humanity and deal with the turmoil inside the band and their ups and downs. What excites me, and I hope everyone gets to experience it, are the opportunities in so many different ways that black men can show each other love and compassion…and support and solidarity and brotherhood. It’s truly unprecedented, especially in a Broadway musical.

Although he didn’t have a formal creative role, Williams was part of the creative process, making himself available to McAnuff, Morisseau and the cast as they prepared for the August 31, 2017 premiere at Berkeley, California. He remembers a meeting. with the five principles in his hotel room that lasted from early evening until early morning – what Williams calls “no-o’clock”, talking in depth about what made each of the Temptations tick.

“(Williams) has been extremely, especially generous to the guys who work on our show,” Morisseau said. “They call him for advice in life and also on the show. He imparted to them the wisdom of performance and the wisdom of life. That’s really rare.

“Ain’t Too Proud” aired in Berkley for 10 weeks before moving to Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Toronto in 2018. Its Broadway debut was in February 2019 at the Imperial Theater, and production there was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, with Sergio Trujillo winning Best Choreography. After the pandemic, the show briefly returned to Broadway, closing for good on January 16.

The national tour, delayed a year and a half by the pandemic, began in December in North Carolina and made its way across the country. Meanwhile, Williams and the current Temptations — who added Detroit native Jawan M. Jackson from the Broadway cast “Ain’t Too Proud” to the lineup earlier this year — have released a new album, “ Temptations 60”, in January and continues to travel. The two make sure the Temptations legacy is represented — well, as far as Williams is concerned.
“I’d like to think that David, Eddie, Paul, Melvin and…Dennis (Edwards) are looking down at me from the sky and saying, ‘Otis, you’re carrying the banner. We’re proud of what you’re doing…keep going bro’ said Williams. “That’s what I’m doing. I had no desire to be here to tell the story. I’m just glad it’s said.

“Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” runs from Tuesday, August 9 through August 28 at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. $35 and up 313-961-3500 or broadwayindetroit.com. “Ain’t Too Proud” will hold open auditions for several parts of the musical from 9 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 10 at the Motown Museum, 2648 West Grand Boulevard. (313) 875-2264.