The Temptations made their mark on the world with songs such as “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Get Ready” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).”
While group was successful, but it also dealt with strife. “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” spotlight’s their rise to fame from the streets of Detroit to international stardom.
The musical will visit ASU Gammage from Tuesday, Nov. 14, to Sunday, Nov. 19. It will also make a stop in Tucson from Tuesday, Nov. 28, to Sunday, Dec. 3, as part of the Broadway in Tucson series.
“Ain’t Too Proud” delves into themes of brotherhood, fame, family, loyalty and betrayal, exploring how personal conflicts and afflictions as well as political conflicts and social unrest impacted the group.
The show was written by Dominique Morisseau and won a 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography.
The national tour stars Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin; Michael Andreas as Otis Williams; Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks; E. Clayton Cornelious as Paul Williams; Harrell Holmes Jr. as Melvin Franklin; Devin Price as Al Bryant/Norman Whitfield and Kevin Holloway as Richard Street.
Derek Adams portrays Smokey Robinson/Damon Harris. Jeremy R. Kelsey stars as record producer Berry Gordy, and Amber Mariah Talley portrays Diana Ross. Ryan M. Hunt plays the Temptations’ longtime manager Shelly Berger.
Lewis has also appeared on Broadway and on national tours of “Motown the Musical.”
He grew up singing in church and was influenced by gospel music. He came from an entertainment family and was exposed to a range of music, including classic, hip-hop and R&B.
He has worked with major artists such as Ariana Grande, SZA, Alessia Cara, Madonna, Marc Cohn, Mary Mary, Chance the Rapper and his uncle, James “J.T.” Taylor from Kool and the Gang.
Lewis grew up with a dad who was a music producer. From a young age, he was exposed to Motown music.
“Being an African American male, it’s been around my culture forever. There’s not a day where you won’t hear Motown music. It’s been part of the soundtrack of our lives. That kind of music was music you cleaned up to on Sunday and on Saturday. When you’d hear your mom, your aunt or you grandmother put that music on, you knew it was time to get to work,” Lewis said.
Lewis said it’s different to portray Motown legends than sing the music at home growing up.
“You are now telling the story, instead of just singing and having fun with the story. You’re going into how the song was created or why the song was created and the intentions behind the song being created and performed. So, it’s a little deeper connection,” Lewis said.
Although he had favorite songs from the Temptations before doing the show, such as “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “My Girl,” there are others that Lewis has come to, such as “(I Know) I’m Losing You.”
He started with “Ain’t Too Proud” on Broadway as a standby, covering David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Otis Williams.
Once he joined the tour, he took on the role of David Ruffin. He said he makes the part his own by delving into his career. He reached out to his son, David Ruffin Jr., to learn about him as a person.
“I’m not trying to be like him or impersonate him,” he said.
“I’m just trying to keep the essence of who David Ruffin was and embody his essence. I hope people leave knowing that David Ruffin was just like you and me… He was in the spotlight/limelight and put on front street. I want people to understand that he was a person just like us who was just very gifted and talented.”
Otis Williams, the last surviving original member of the Temptations, also shared stories with the cast. The show is based on his memoir.
“It’s coming from the horse’s mouth, these people who have lived with them,” Lewis said.
“You get a better insight on the person. It’s pretty cool to have Otis, who has been a part of it from inception, and he’s still a part of it to this day.”
From Williams, the cast members learned more about the Temptation members’ more comical sides. Lewis said they try to bring this to the roles.
“They all felt like they were comedians,” Lewis said.
“They all used to prank each other. They were kind of like brothers, especially David. David loved to prank people and have fun. He was quite the comedian. So was Otis. He has his own isms that he likes to say. They were family. They did things to each other, like any brothers would, arguments, ups and downs, great times pranking each other.”
Lewis said, thanks to the tour, the cast members have bonded, a feeling they can carry to the stage.
“Touring, you’re living with people,” Lewis said.
“You’re at work all night, staying sometimes in the same housing… So, you form a family bond. There are a lot of things that happen onstage that people don’t know. One in particular, there’s a bus scene that we have as the Temptations. We’re playing cards, and I don’t think people really know that we’re really playing Spades onstage.”
“Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations National Tour”
WHEN: Various times Tuesday, Nov. 28, to Sunday, Dec. 3
WHERE: Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Boulevard, Tucson
COST: Tickets start at $40