Prince Edward Theatre, London
Music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog
Book by Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Des McAnuff
In possibly the finest jukebox musical created, Ain’t Too Proud is a slick take on The Tempations’ rise from the backstreets of Detroit to become the world's most successful R&B group. Transferring to London from Broadway and with Dominique Morisseau's book drawn from Otis Williams’ history of The Temptations, the show picks out the key moments of the group’s arc, liberally interspersing narrative with numbers - and it is a tribute to the cast and crew of this West End iteration that their take on these Motown classics is performed immaculately.
That the first act is perhaps slightly too long and the second, occasionally, too schmaltzy are minor flaws in what is otherwise an evening of perfect musical theatre. Des McAnuff’s direction steers the story from the group’s early years, supporting The Supremes, through the guiding influences of Motown’s Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson. With The Temptations' journey going on to skirt the complexities of the Vietnam War and America’s Civil Rights evolution, their songs were never less than on point.
Sifiso Mazibuko leads the cast as Williams, The Temptations’ founder and backbone, with a performance that is energising and compelling. William’s assembly of the five Michigan boys who were to take the group to their first No 1 hit, My Girl is slickly told, with all of the cast proving to be outstanding performers. Close your eyes and it *is* The Temptations on stage, with particular mention to Tosh Wanogho-Maud who gives a frenzied interpretation of David Ruffin, a man whose presence contributed much to The Temptations’ meteoric rise and equally to Cameron Bernard Jones whose bass baritone take on Melvin Franklin seems to reach a booming register that’s lower than the Elizabeth Line, such is his vocal gift.
The evening is more than just a five-star whirl through The Temptations' greatest hits. The show credits the music and lyrics as hailing from ‘The Legendary Motown Catalog’ and it is a mark of both the style and largesse of this production that midway through the first act there is a medley of hits from The Supremes. Credit here to Holly Liburd as Diana Ross and her two female-co performers – the brief glimpse that they offer of the legendary girl-band is another of the show's treats.
More than just the actors though, Sergio Trujillo's Tony-winning choreography is breathtaking in its poise, pinpoint accuracy and vision that effectively transfers the show’s 1960s ethos into a 21st century auditorium. Back in 2004 Trujillo and McAnuff helmed Jersey Boys to greatness on both sides of the Atlantic. Their jukebox genre genius has only improved over the years.
Situated upstage, Matt Smith directs his 11 piece band magnificently. Their handling of the classic melodies is pitch perfect and whether the tunes are backing the cast or are played as standalone motifs that segue the story from chapter to chapter, Smith and his band are flawless.
This is a bold production to take to a major West End stage in the current climate. A large performing company fused with multi-million dollar staging and projections requires investing producers with nerves of steel. But when the show is this good, it is money well spent.
Ain't Too Proud at the Prince Edward Theatre - the brightest sunshine on a cloudy day.
Booking until 1st October
Photo credit: Johan Persson