The Legacy of The Temptations Lives on at the Ahmanson Theatre
Reflecting on the return of Ain’t Too Proud with Otis Williams and Sergio Trujillo.
Ain’t Too Proud is back in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre, and the city is ready for more. Following their Pre-Broadway performance in 2018, the show went on to garner 12 Tony Award nominations and win the 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography. Now, audiences and fans of The Temptations (sometimes referred to as “The Temps”) are flocking to the theatre to remember and bask in the soul, heart, and sound of the legendary Motown group. Filled with the timeless classics from their musical catalog, Ain’t Too Proud tells the story of The Temptations’ extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The iconic group has long been known to exhilarate their audiences, and the opening night of Ain’t Too Proud was no different. The Ahmanson Theatre has hosted many types of genres, but that night, it was a rock concert that took center stage.
The narrator, Otis Williams (played by Marcus Paul James), shares his journey navigating the challenges and excitement of fame and success while maintaining his brotherhood and family ties. We sat down with the last living member of The Temptations, Otis Williams and Ain’t Too Proud’s Tony Award-winning choreographer Sergio Trujillo, to discuss the success of the show, the legacy of The Temptations, and what it was like to return to Los Angeles following the show’s successful Broadway run.
Why Ain’t Too Proud is such a success
Adoring audiences, electrifying music, and show-stopping talent are just some of the factors that make Ain’t Too Proud a hit, but Trujillo and Williams offer more to the conversation when reflecting on the show. With a long list of successes and timeless appeal, the group has forever immortalized itself as legends within soul music. But for Otis, The Temptations are a humble reminder of our mortality, which contributes to the importance of having purpose and joy for the work and life one leads.
“I think when [audiences] see the play, they can relate to [The Temptations because] we all got to leave here. I lost four of my guys,” Williams said. “We [were] all relative in the sense of being human...but doing what we do, we bring enjoyment.”
Despite the enticing rise of The Temptations to Motown fame, Ain’t Too Proud does not shy away from the darker moments in the lives of the group members. The show highlights some of the hardships the group faced, such as the deaths of the founding members of The Temptations, as well as the death of Williams’ son, Lamont.
“The fans around me would do a slow crane. Look around to see what's up. And I said yeah, I'm tearing up too. ‘Oh Mr. Williams, your story. You really lived that?’ I say, ‘Yes, I... I lived through that,’” he reflected.
But Williams knows the importance of sharing these difficult moments. “It's great that we can test the human emotion, the heart. And that's what's important. Because it ain't just about the music.... that's a very important part, but we are touching the soul."
The joy that the story of The Temptations brought was intoxicating to audiences on opening night. Emotions were high as the audience sat for the show and greeted the cast to thunderous applause upon entry. Audience members clapped with all their might, cried along to the somber moments, and vocally connected to the storytelling onstage. It was as though The Temptations had lit a fire in the audience. The room was electric. The audience jumped to their feet at the end of the show for a standing ovation as Williams and longtime manager of The Temptation's Shelley Berger took the stage to speak.
“For me and Shelley to have gone through so many challenges, and here we are [still] standing. I’ve always said it's not about the talent...it’s [about the] heart.” Williams shared to an enamored audience.
Sergio Trujillo was also in the audience on opening night and shared what he felt was the reason for such a powerful response from the audience.
“[Opening] night was indicative of what people are craving. It is that communal thing that happens when you come to live theatre. We gather as people for these two hours, and no performance is ever going to be the same. It's such a sacred space...” he said.
Though no two performances are the same, the timelessness of the group lives on, with audience members leaving the theatre tapping their feet or letting a lyric or two escape their mouths. The Temptations fill us with that nostalgic feeling of joy, continuing their legacy of bringing music and joy to fans across the nation.
Honoring The Temptations’ legacy for new and older audiences
The legacy of The Temptations is only one factor in the successes of Ain’t Too Proud, but it is one that is important to the soul of the show. For Williams, that legacy isn’t something that one person holds, but rather a symbol of his brotherhood with the musical group.
“When I heard that Eddie was getting ready to make his transition, I called him and said, ‘Eddie, we did something that's gonna last. I'm so glad we did it together,’” he shared.
But the pressure to honor the original influence of The Temptations was present, especially for Trujillo, who was tasked with creating the show’s choreography. He had to navigate choreographing the legacy of an iconic group while still placing his own original twist on it.
“When I was asked to choreograph this show, I was incredibly intimidated by the task. The Temptations changed the way that dance was perceived.” Trujillo said. “They're known as the icons of dance in the music industry. So, for me, the challenge was how I take all of that, reinvent it in a way that feels like it still pays homage to [them], while still putting my stamp on it.”
For Trujillo, it was a question of putting it all together. After all, The Temptations are known for some of the smoothest moves around, so it had to be done in a way that honors their history while also supporting the story and energy of Ain’t Too Proud for the audiences of today.
“I had done enough research to be able to empower myself. [But it was] also important for me to look at it through the lens of dance today. How do I take all the different dance influences that are relevant today? And how do I masterfully weave them into the choreography of The Temps?”
Ain’t Too Proud is not only an opportunity for existing fans to enjoy the music of The Temptations, but for the group to reach newer and younger audiences. Sergio understood this when he was choreographing the show, and felt it was important to highlight when considering the evolving story of the group.
“I wanted a younger audience, who've never seen The Temps to look at [the choreography] and say, ‘Wow, those are some really cool, slick moves.”
The Tony Award-winning choreography of Ain’t Too Proud is a new chapter for The Temptations, filling the theatre with energy as audiences, both old and new, are entranced by the magic onstage. But this isn’t the first-time audiences were able to experience The Temptations at the Ahmanson.
Returning to LA Post Pandemic
In 2018, the Ahmanson Theatre presented Ain’t Too Proud to Los Angeles audiences for the first time, giving Angelenos the opportunity to experience The Temptations before their Broadway run. The production went on to be a success, but closed on Broadway in early 2022 as a result of the challenges surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. Trujillo was excited to return to Los Angeles with the touring production following the show’s success on Broadway.
“It’s great for us to come back and get the kind of response we received [on opening] night. Having been here four years ago, [we were] able to take notice of the audience's response, and then go back to New York and really work on our show.” Trujillo shared. “[To] come back and get even more support, more of that joyous, thunderous applause...It's just reassuring to know that the work we did was important and incredibly successful.”
And even with all that support, one factor that really stood out to Trujillo was the safety the theatre held regarding Covid-19 protocols.
“What I noticed [that] night was the level of safety. [Center Theatre Group] has really been making sure that people feel safe. They are taking all the precautions [so] people that come into the theatre feel like they're being taken care of.”
The success of Ain’t Too Proud may not be new, but it is a beacon of light during a time when an entire industry has had to surpass challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. “To have a shutdown of two plus years...and experience the financial [and] emotional [challenges that have] changed our industry... we’re just beginning to [come] out of it.” Trujillo shared.
But even after facing one of the most challenging times for the theatre industry, Trujillo finds reward in the return of live audiences. Los Angeles is an especially unique and rewarding experience for him because of the diversity amongst the audiences.
“The other thing that's been great about being here in L.A. is how incredibly diverse the audiences [have been.]” he shared. “I want audiences of all diverse cultures to come and watch our show.”
With harmonies that are sure to leave you in awe, and moves that make you want to get up and dance, Ain’t Too Proud reminds us all that with some hard work, love, and a whole lot of soul, the unimaginable can be achievable. It’s a heartwarming story that reminds us of the humanity necessary for success, and what determined minds can achieve. But it's not just a story, it’s the life and times of The Temptations.
“When I sit back and reflect on it, I love those guys,” Williams shared. “We did something. I'm thankful that my life story can be told.”
Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations runs at the Ahmanson Theatre until January 1st, 2023. Tickets are currently on sale and start at $40. They will be available through CenterTheatreGroup.org, Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or in-person at the Center Theatre Group Box Offices (at the Ahmanson Theatre) at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012. Performances run Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. See the smash-hit production where it all began.