LA LA LAND today is not about a mysterious doorway that leads to a cool music venue. The doorway I went through last week at the Ahmanson Theater in Downtown LA is ten doors wide, large enough to admit 2000 people for the musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations now working out its kinks in LA before opening in for Broadway next spring. It is a knockout both musically and in its treatment of one of America’s most popular singing groups plus its insight into Barry Gordy’s transformative Motown Records.
More than a juke box musical that shoehorns the life of a band or star into the spaces between production numbers, Ain’t Too Proud spends dramatic time on the group’s growth, politics, ups and downs (from #1 hits to overdose deaths) and historical environment ( civil rights movement, Vietnam war, psychedelic music), using the character of Otis Williams, the sole surviving member of the group, as the narrator and lead. The deft combination of music, story and history was shaped by the award-winning Detroit playwright Dominque Morisseau from the memoir about the Temptations that Otis Williams wrote with Patricia Romanowski. Directed by jukebox musical veteran Derrick Baskin (Jersey Boys, Big River), the audience got not only a coherent and fascinating storyline, but also strong character development and absolutely explosive musical numbers.
And there were many, many musical numbers from The Temptations’ catalogue (an amazing 42 Top Ten Hits with 14 reaching number one) including “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” and of course the song that gave the show its title, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”. The singing was performed with the tightly synchronized dance moves by the original group, choreographed by Oliver Award winner Sergio Trujillo (Memphis the Musical, On Your Feet). Appearances by Smokey Robbins – a major songwriter for The Temptations – the Supremes, and other Motown talent amped up the music even more.
When “Ain’t Too Proud” leaves LA in two weeks there will be many music lovers disappointed because they couldn’t get tickets. So If you grew up with The Temptations, or if your parents did, the next stop appears to be New York City and I promise you it will be worth the trip. Or maybe just wait until the road show tours in the US and Europe – I am sure there will be one.
A quick good news note: The US Senate has approved the Music Modernization Act of 2018 (aka the Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act), giving songwriters and artists royalties on songs recorded before 1972, giving royalties to music producers, and updating licensing and royalty rules for streaming services to quickly pay rights-holders. Bottom line is that music-makers will get more money. The House version passed in April, so, the bill now must be reconsidered by the House and then signed by President Trump, both likely to happen. Hopefully your local starving musician with 1 million streams and a check for $105 will now get paid enough to each.