Watching Mirvish’s production of Ain’t Too Proud was an absolute joy. I am a bigtime Motown music lover, and was so excited for the evening of music and to learn even more about “The Life and Times of The Temptations”. My Motown mix is the most frequently played playlist in my home: its use is varied – for boogying down, cooking, cleaning, and crooning. Being able to see some of my favourite songs onstage felt like a gift. Most importantly, this gift is given to such a wide audience. In a time of increasing political and racial strife, it is both saddening and bracing to see our modern life mimicking the racial stresses from the 60s. Looking around the audience, there were the usual Mirvish seasons-tickets holders, but there were also so many people that I could read on their faces just how important this show was to them. It felt like the power and passion of the evening grew far beyond the stage that night.
These powerful moments, almost cruel in their beauty, center on the political and racial divide of the time. A group comprised of boys from the streets of Detroit, The Temptations were rocked by the riots and burning of their hometown. Passion and anger flared on the stage, and left us quaking in our seats. Another harrowing moment of greatness was when the news of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination reached the group. In the mournful performance of “I Wish it Would Rain”, tears were flowing and I felt overcome with the sadness and brevity of life, while at the same time being heartbroken from the beauty of the music being sung by such a powerful cast.
In order to give proper kudos, I really feel as if I could name each cast member and praise their contribution and skill. The entire ensemble was wonderful, perfectly selected, and played their roles with subtlety and historical accuracy. One performance that caught me by total surprise was Rashidra Scott, playing Josephine, in her heart-wrenching rendition of “If you don’t know me by now”. That woman can sing. It was such a delight to see a variety of acts in this show as well. The Temptations were not an island – they functioned within the massive machine that was Motown Records, and it was a delight to listen to a variety of music from the time. The show also gives a peek into the interesting and oppositional forces that demanded absolute perfection and replicable performances in a genre based on, or at least stemming from, soul, honesty, and improvisation.
All of the design aspects of the show are just as on-point as the cast. Complex sets weave on and off the stage making the changes seem simple – the goal of any performance. Costuming is to die for! Not only are the core cast resplendent in their Motown-style snappy suits, the rest of the cast are outfitted gloriously to match. The large timescale is represented through the costuming as well, giving the audience cues of the date, without needing a narrator to vocalize. Overall, I can hardly find criticism. Voices were gorgeous, choreography was inspired, and the moments of family, brotherhood, and love made this performance stand out among the array of new musicals on the stage today. Ain’t Too Proud made me think, laugh, cry, and dance in my seat. I can’t wait until I can see it again, and I thank all involved for the gift.