Review: “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” is Pure Magic!

The National Touring Company of “Ain’t Too Proud." Photo by Emilio Madrid

CTGLA will probably have a hard time following up a production as flawless and satisfying as the musical based on one of the most successful R&B groups of all time, The Temptations. A kinetic. spirited jukebox musical, it features spellbinding choreography and a plethora of hits (some of which you might not even have realized were by them, but can easily sing along to) including “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),” and “I Can’t Get Next to You.” Throw in some surprise cameos by The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Norman Whitfield, Berry Gordy, and even the doo-wop Harlem group, The Cadillacs, and you get the quintessential musical, setting an impossibly high bar for others. It’s pure magic!

L–R: Marcus Paul James, Jalen Harris, Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Harrell Holmes Jr.,James T. Lane from the National Touring Company of “Ain’t Too Proud.” Photo by Emilio Madrid

The show is based on an autobiography by the founding father of the group, Otis Williams and boasts a book by Dominique Morisseau using the legendary Motown catalog. It follows the birth and evolution of the band through several monikers, changing members — originally Otis Williams (Marcus Paul James), Paul Williams (James T. Lane), Melvin Franklin (Harrell Holmes, Jr.), Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris), and David Ruffin (Elijah Ahmad Lewis) — and the demons that carpooled with them. This is not  a musical that shies away or sugarcoats some of the distressing tales of drug addiction, jealousy, infidelity, and even suicide. But it also celebrates life’s triumphs, the bonds of musical brotherhood, and will leave you singing and gyrating all the way home.

(“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”) is the quintessential musical, setting an impossibly high bar for others. It’s pure magic!

The ensemble members are the strongest performers you’ll enjoy in musical theater. Marcus Paul James (effortlessly bringing to mind Denzel Washington) is the rock solid constant, anchoring the show as the narrator. But even though the rest shuffle in and out of the band, the character development is so strong that you never confuse them. They serenade us with soulful vocals and spellbinding choreography through almost two-and-a-half hours of a glorious, and sometimes tragic journey from their humble beginnings in Detroit all the way to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and international stardom — all this without a single dull moment. No mean feat. The flawless performances — of which Elijah Ahmad Lewis as the uber-talented, but doomed Ruffin is a standout — brought the audience to a standing ovation several times during the opening night. Of course, credit must also be attributed to choreographer, Sergio Trujillo who won a Tony for it; Director McAnuff, who has gleaned cinematic performances from the ensemble; vibrant sound design by Steve Canyon Kennedy, and the seamless scenic design by Robert Brill.

National Touring Company of “Ain’t Too Proud.” Photo by Emilio Madrid

— G. Dhalla / V. Riobo

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg plays at the Ahmanson Theatre through January 1st. Tickets HERE.