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AIN'T TOO PROUD: 3.5 Stars for a Polished Musical Journey Through Motown

This jukebox musical is like a beautifully staged Motown concert. Go for the songs; just expect a bumpy story.

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Review By: Theatre Monthly Panel

The Prince Edward Theatre jets back to the 1960s with Ain’t Too Proud, the Temptations jukebox musical that hit Broadway in 2018. The show, with a book by Dominique Morisseau, celebrates Motown music without much, well, imagination. Still, as far as jukebox musicals go, Ain't Too Proud is one of the better ones to emerge in recent years.

The fast-paced show is ostensibly about Motown in the 1960s and 1970s but shows its roots in Jersey Boys, the superior jukebox musical. Viewers won’t be surprised to find that Ain’t Too Proud is directed and choreographed by the same team that created Jersey Boys, Des McAnuff and Sergio Trujillo, who pull off similar eye-catching and ear-pulling tricks as they did in their earlier work.

One cannot, of course, fault the music, which is performed with all the verve found in the originals, and more advanced sound design. It might be sacrilegious yet valid to admit that the songs in Ain’t Too Proud sound better than the originals, with blissful harmonies floating into the audience. If you missed the ’60s and want to see it in vivid bell-bottomed pastels, this show delivers memorable performances with smooth vocals and bracing dialogue.

Unlike Jersey Boys, though, Ain’t Too Proud struggles to find a consistent through story and feels more episodic, with some scenes seemingly skating by within seconds. Suddenly a desk appears, only to slide away with a drumbeat. Motown legends Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy show up, along with quick nods to the politics of the era. Look, there’s Martin Luther King and Detroit race riots! Now, gone. The founder of the Temptations, Otis Williams (Sifiso Mazibuko) delivers narration, as other band members come and go, whether the result of drinking, drug use, or simply an inability to get along with Williams, whose book provides the source material for the show.

The performances are uniformly strong with excellent vocals by Tosh Wanogho-Maud and Mitchell Zhangazha as lead vocalists David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks. Cameron Bernard Jones is able to inject a touch of comedy as Otis's first recruit, Melvin. All of the cast manage to keep up with Trujillo’s lightning-quick choreography despite era-defining platform shoes for men.

The creators of Ain’t Too Proud have plenty to be proud of — this show is nothing new, but it is fast, furious and worthy of the ticket price for those who enjoy Motown hits.

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