This year, the Tony Awards will take place on June 9 at Radio City Musical Hall in New York City. As part of our countdown to the biggest night on Broadway, we’re spotlighting some of this year’s most nominated productions.
With 12 nominations, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations is the second-most nominated show (only behind Hadestown). Reaching for a guaranteed formula for a box office hit, Broadway has ushered in a cascade of biographical jukebox musicals about artists such as Cher, Donna Summer, Carole King, Gloria Estefan, The Shirelles, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, and John Lennon. Though The Temptations may be the latest addition to this trend, Ain’t Too Proud is an undeniably singular experience.
To this day, The Temptations remain one of the most legendary R&B groups of all time. They notched 42 top ten hits, with 14 that went to number one. Impressively, The Temptations’ current iteration (including founding member Otis Williams) still release new music and sell out concerts all over the world. Yet their ascension to music royalty was paved with multiple dramas and tragedies fueled by racism, broken friendships and families, shady business deals, addiction, sickness, and death.
Narrating these remarkable stories is Otis Williams, portrayed by the ravishing Derrick Baskin in his Tony-nominated performance. As the front man of both the band and the show, Williams takes the audience on a decades-long journey of heartbreak and harmonies. Packed with the band’s most beloved hits – such as “Shout,” “Get Ready,” “For Once In My Life,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “My Girl,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “In The Still of the Night” – the soulful musical traces the band from their Detroit origins in the 1950s all the way to their status as members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame today.
A scene-stealer from the very beginning of the opening number, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” is Jeremy Pope as falsetto-loving tenor Eddie Kendricks. Though this is Pope’s debut Broadway season, he’s a dual nominee at this year’s Tony’s. The 27-year-old is up for both Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in A Musical for Ain’t Too Proud and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for Choir Boy. That makes him only the sixth person ever to be nominated for two acting roles within the same season. In fact, Pope exited Choir Boy just three days before Ain’t Too Proud began performances.
“He’s a very gifted open vessel of an artist,” Tony-nominated Ain’t Too Proud book writer (and McArthur Genius Grant recipient) Dominique Morriseau told The Hollywood Reporter. “The kind of vulnerability that he displayed in Choir Boy and he’s also displaying in Ain’t Too Proud is something we need to see more of. These complicated, complex visions of black male humanity. I don’t think we see enough of it.”
As Kendricks, Pope delivers an unforgettable performance. Whether he’s soaring to the highest notes in The Temptations’ classic hits, mastering their iconic choreography, fighting for fairer royalties, embarking on a solo career or battling illness, Pope’s portrayal of Kendricks is full of passion, bravado and electricity.
The show’s third Tony nominated performance comes in the form of Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin. Though he’s been in the ensemble of musicals like Memphis and Hamilton, Ain’t Too Proud solidifies Sykes’ status as a leading man. With the same vocal runs that made him such a standout in NBC’s Hairspray Live!, Sykes’ extraordinary talent is on full display as he brings his A-game to the troubled crooner.
Ruffins’ fate was arguably one of the saddest of all The Temptations, yet Sykes’ portrayal is a beautiful homage that reveals the multilayered man behind the infamous story. As a result, he’s already won Broadway.com’s Audience Award for this year’s Favorite Breakthrough Performance (Male).
In addition to the coveted Best Musical, Ain’t Too Proud is nominated for Best Direction, Choreography, Scenic Design, Costume Design, Lighting Design, Sound Design, and Orchestrations. While jukebox musicals don’t have a history of sweeping the Tonys, this one has the best shot since Jersey Boys in taking home the evening’s top prize.
With terrific performances mixed with beloved Motown hits, along with a powerful dose of social commentary about an era when civil unrest almost tore America apart, Ain’t Too Proud is a theater experience unlike anything else currently on Broadway.
CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to see Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, now playing at the Imperial Theatre.
PHOTOS | MATTHEW MURPHY