You know their songs; now learn their backstory. The Temptations get the Jersey Boys treatment this fall with the world premiere of Ain’t Too Proud, a musical that celebrates and delves into the story of Motown’s chart-topping quintet.
Rest assured, this is not your typical jukebox musical. Yes, the production is directed and choreographed by the team that delivered Jersey Boys (Des McAnuff and Sergio Trujillo, respectively), and yes, it promises groovy dance moves and flashy costumes. But, it has both style and gravitas, says playwright Dominique Morisseau.
Ain’t Too Proud follows the original group members through a period of intense social and political strife: the 1967 Detroit Riots and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, along with their personal struggles. The doo-wop-y “My Girl” may have been the Temptations’ first hit in 1964, but at the end of the decade the group was singing socially conscious songs like “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today).”
The show also departs from the traditional musical formula by weaving the songs into the story line so each tune takes on “a new meaning.” A love ballad that would usually be sung by a man to a woman is now a duet between two brothers about their complicated relationship; another love song is now sung by one member begging not to be kicked out of the group.
“We really shift the song ‘I Wish It Would Rain,’ ” adds Morisseau. “That song is about a man not wanting to cry over getting his heart broken by a woman; here we use it to deal with the death of Dr. King.”
This was the world the Temptations were facing in Detroit in the ’60s. Lots of rhythm.And lots of blues.
Ain’t Too Proud is at Berkeley Repertory Theatre Aug 31–Oct 8 (berkeleyrep.org).