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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
“There is no progress without sacrifice” — these words, narrated by Otis Williams (Marcus Paul James), capture the very essence of the musical “Ain’t too Proud.”
Following a successful 2019 debut on Broadway, the twelve-time Tony nominated show “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” is embarking on its first national tour, running in Boston from April 19 to May 1. Including over 30 songs from the Temptations and the Motown Records catalog, the show depicts the rise of the vocal group The Temptations to stardom and everything they sacrificed along the way. The show’s energetic choreography and masterful musical renditions create a lively depiction of the Temptations, although the fast pacing prevents parts of the plot from reaching its full potential.
With the 2019 Tony for Best Choreography under its belt, “Ain’t Too Proud” carries a high expectation for its dance numbers, and this run does not disappoint. Featuring high-energy sequences and a talented cast able to dance and sing fabulously without missing a beat, the show provides a very enjoyable experience and manages to capture the soul of The Temptations and their songs. The choreography transitions from one moment to another seamlessly and balances well between individual and group moments without overwhelming the audience.
Along with the incredible choreography, it’s the musical arrangements that make the show. “Ain’t Too Proud” starts out with some bangers, immediately drawing the audience in. Iconic Temptations’ hits, including “My Girl” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” are adapted brilliantly to fit into the storyline of the show. The musical numbers blend in seamlessly with the dialogue and often help tell the story, an effect achieved by creatively splitting up a song and transitioning in and out of parts of it. The arrangements manage to both emulate the original spirit of the songs and add further layers of meaning by contextualizing the stories of their creation.
However, the pacing of the show leaves something to be desired. The story covers a significant period of time, but most of the time progression is driven by narration, leaving short pockets of action separated by long temporal gaps. While this large time span does allow for a multifaceted view into the different challenges faced by The Temptations, the short amount of time spent on individual moments makes it difficult to form emotional attachments to many of the issues “Ain’t Too Proud” explores.
This is not a problem when it comes to the recurring tensions and sacrifices that come up, such as Otis’s (Marcus Paul James) relationship with his family and the conflicts within the group. On the other hand, other issues seem to come to the forefront briefly and then go away quickly as the show moves on to the next stage, leaving many facets underexplored. Racial complexities are briefly touched on: Martin Luther King Jr.’s death is written in, The Temptations get shot at while trying to perform in the South, and one of The Temptations mentions the irony of there being some who likes to listen to their music but hates who they are. However, there is not much of an attempt to connect these pieces — instead they exist as isolated moments. Gambling, drugs, and alcohol are also in the periphery, mostly mentioned when they affect the group dynamic and work schedule rather than the continuous struggle and toll taken on the individuals on a personal level. Additionally, moments of grief, especially concerning the loss or changing of group members, pass too quickly, sometimes leaving the audience little time to feel the weight of the loss.
Furthermore, at times the story feels overnarrated and could benefit from more acted out parts rather than verbal explanations, particularly in the first half.
At its heart, “Ain’t Too Proud” is a depiction of the sacrifices necessary to achieve success. The show manages to convey its message while also telling a detailed story of The Temptations’ rise to fame and showcasing many of their top hits. Whether already a Temptations fan or not, the story of their rise from the streets of Detroit to becoming one of the greatest R&B groups of all time will have everyone rooting for them, making the show enjoyable for all.
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