Review: 'Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations' at Berkeley Rep

Jordan Nickels

We can’t go backwards, the only thing we can rewind is a song. Berkeley Rep flips the record to one of Motown’s most successful artists in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. From the creative team behind Jersey Boys, we get a look on the triumphs and tribulations of the men behind The Temptations, through their rise in the 1960s and 1970s.

Otis Williams, founding member of The Temptations, tells their story as the outsider looking in, as different members come and go.  Derrick Baskin (Memphis) plays both sides of Otis: the heart of The Temptations and the one they look towards for leadership. There were many talented members who graced the ranks of The Temptations; including the electric David Ruffin, played by Ephraim Sykes (Hairspray Live!), and tenor Eddie Kendricks, backed by the angelic voice of Jeremy Pope (The View Upstairs).

Playwright Dominique Morisseau (Skeleton Crew, Paradise Blue, Detroit ‘67), brought with her a wealth of knowledge and soul as a native of Detroit, when bringing the Michigan born Temptations to the stage. You could tell how connected she was to the music of Motown and the backstories of these men, as they shared how growing up in Detroit shaped them throughout their careers. Along with her hometown pride, Dominique also understood the tone to which this musical sang to. The audience danced and clapped along to the legendary music of The Temptations, but this show never lost its stride when tackling heavier subjects for a musical.

On the way to a tour stop in the South, The Temptations are harassed in their bus, facing an onslaught of racial slurs. Eddie Kendricks explains that their white audience loves their music, but will never meet them in the flesh. The Temptations and Motown Records knew success meant breaking into the white audience in the 1960s, and while their voices got them that success, they were still held back in the country’s eyes for the color of their skin. This central conflict of race and civil rights, along with relationships and addiction, gave more layers to a bio musical or “jukebox musical” than many of their predecessors. This was a result of Dominique intertwining The Temptations’ music with their experiences when out of the spotlight.  

From the incredibly talented ensemble, who portrayed the likes of Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and Berry Gordy; to the incredible projections, lighting, and set design, that plunged the rising career of The Temptations into a gray scaled, industrial world of Detroit’s automotive history, Ain’t Too Proud is ready for its Broadway debut.

Otis Williams talks a lot about foundation, saying life can be shaky, especially when you add fame. The Temptations story is one of celebration and loss, of catapulting to fame and what is left behind along the way. Foundation is the key, and from all sides this musical has a strong foundation to stand on. The brotherhood behind the story of The Temptations is a fascinating one. Fans will come to hear their music, but regardless if you grew up with The Temptations or are new to their music, everyone will walk away learning something new about their legacy.

Go see Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations at Berkeley Rep through October 22, because you will want to say you saw this musical before it spins to New York.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website:, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8

Photo: Front Derrick Baskin (Otis Williams), rear left to right Ephraim Sykes (David Ruffin), Jeremy Pope (Eddie Kendricks), Jared Joseph (Melvin Franklin), and James Harkness (Paul Williams) in the world premiere of Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre.)