I need to be upfront and say that I love Motown. About two years ago, I almost exclusively listened to Motown: The Four Tops, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Marvin Gaye and of course, The Temptations, among many others. It was music I could imagine to, my contemporary world exploding into the passion, freedom, romance and style of the 60s and 70s. It was, all the feels, music that connected you to another person just by groove'n. It was fun and funky, honest and political, but sexy as hell. It was music anyone could move to, groove to, no matter what your dance skills were. This music brings me joy. And I know I'm not the only one.
When my father was a 16 year old punk bum'n around Sharon, PA with his crew, one night he crept into his half asleep older brother's room. "Hey Johnny...can we borrow your car tonight?" he asked. Johnny made some type of noise, that my father wishfully interpreted as a "yes." Dad and his boys bolted out of the house, hopped in the Pontiac GTO (arguably America's first muscle car) and set off on an hour and a half drive to Celveland, OH. It was 1968 and The Temptations were playing the Penthouse Club in Cleveland, OH.
Flash forward to August 2018, when I am attending opening night of the LA premiere of The Temptation's new bio-musical, Ain't Too Proud. While watching their story unfold, I learn that the concert my dad attended was the night that David Ruffin didn't show up at his own performance, bailing to watch his new girlfriend, Barbara Gail Martin (daughter of Dean Martin), perform at another venue. Despite his unearthly talent, that incident was the group's deciding factor to finally kick him out. Dad on the other hand, didn't recall any of that drama. His memories went elsewhere. "We were the only white people there. But everyone was so welcoming of us. Everyone was having a good time, dancing together. It didn't matter. It was about the music. And everyone knew that."
As you may have read in previous entries, Jersey Boys is kind of my theatre guilty pleasure, I'm obsessed. At first glance, this production may seem like "the black version" of Jersey Boys however...I would argue that it's even more polished, mature, consistent and musically just... a mind-blowingly powerful production. For those of us that never got to see The Temptations perform in real life, listening to the music and falling in love with it is one thing, but watching the way these actors transform themselves and the music is another. This might be the most talented ensemble I have ever seen; every moment of this show is jam packed with performer magic. Sergio Trujillo's choreography not only enhances the story, the era and the general groove factor, but elevates the talent of the cast to a whole new level. There were a few dance moves executed that prompted an audible "mmmmmmm" from my lips. I could imagine myself there, watching these boys perform their hearts and souls out, like I was standing in the back at that same show my dad saw in Cleveland. This time travel would not be possible without Robert Brill's scenic design, and of course Peter Nigrini's projections. In the most simple, yet incredibly powerful way, the design team as a whole transports you to the fashion, politics, mood, delights and struggles of the era. I was honestly very impressed by how much the design elements lended themselves this historic storytelling.
At intermission, I got a text from my friend Nardeep who was sitting in the orchestra, while I was up in the mezzanine.
Nardeep: I hope you're enjoying it!!
Me: Next time I come see this, which I will be seeing this again, multiple times, I will request to sit in the back row so that I can dance the whole time.
So yes, I will definitely be bringing a few different people back to experience this truly phenomenal production. Similar to Jersey Boys, watching how this now iconic group struggled against the discrimination and political tension of the times to have their story, their music be heard, was completely inspiring. It never gets easier. But when we have a story to tell, or a song to sing, we just can't give up. I needed a reminder of that message this month. And that message delivered through this music...can I get an Amen?
Ain't Too Proud runs at the Ahmanson through September 30th before making it's way to Toronto and then Broadway. It's basically impossible for me to see past my undying love for this music, so I'm very interested to see how this piece of theatre lands with a Broadway audience. The woman sitting next to me could testify that I was dancing in my seat for the entire show and knew every single word to every single song. Hopefully that added to her experience. I loved it, and nobody's opinion can shake that. This is one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen in a while. Fingers crossed that it lands well with everyone else and really cleans up during awards season.