The Temptations left their mark on the world with songs like “My Girl”, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “Get Ready” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) ) .”
Although the group was successful, it also dealt with controversy. The “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” spotlight is its rise to fame from the streets of Detroit to international stardom.
The musical visits ASU Gammage from Tuesday, November 14th through Sunday, November 19th.
Delving into themes of brotherhood, fame, family, loyalty and betrayal, “Ain’t Too Proud” explores how personal conflict and suffering, as well as political conflict and social unrest, affected 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 in national tours of “Motown the Musical.”
He grew up singing in church and was influenced by gospel music. Coming from an entertainment family, he was exposed to a variety of music, including classical, 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 “JT” Taylor of Kool and the Gang.
Lewis grew up with a father who was a music producer. From a young age he was exposed to Motown music.
“Being an African-American man, it’s been in my culture forever. There’s not a day that goes by that you don’t hear Motown music. It’s been part of the soundtrack to our lives,” Lewis said.
“That kind of music was music you cleaned up for Sunday and Saturday. When you heard your mother, your aunt or your grandmother put that music on, you knew it was time to get to work.”
Lewis said portraying Motown legends is different than singing the music at home growing up.
“You are now telling the story instead of just singing and having fun with the story. You go 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 Temptations songs before doing the show, such as “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “My Girl,” there are others that Lewis has grown to love, such as “(I Know) I’m Missing You .”
He started with “Ain’t Too Proud” on Broadway as a standby, covering David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Otis Williams.
When he joined the tour, he assumed the role of David Ruffin. He said he’s making the role 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 imitate him,” he said.
“I’m just trying to keep the essence of who David Ruffin was and embody his essence. I hope people walk away knowing that David Ruffin was just like you and me … he was in the spotlight/spotlight and stood on the street. I want people to understand that he was a person 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 memoirs.
“It comes from the horse’s mouth, these people who have lived with them,” Lewis said.
“You get a better insight into the person. It’s pretty cool to have Otis, who’s been a part of it from the beginning, and he’s still a part of it to this day.”
From Williams, the cast learned more about the Temptation members’ more comedic 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 that all brothers would do, arguments, ups and downs, good times, teasing each other.”
Lewis said thanks to the tour, the cast members have bonded, a feeling they can carry to the stage.
“Turing, you live with people,” Lewis said.
“You’re at work all night, sometimes you live in the same residence … so you form a family bond. A lot of things happen on stage that people don’t know. Especially one that is a bus scene that we have as the temptations. We play cards and I don’t think people really know that we really play spades on stage.”
“Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations National Tour”
WHEN: Various times Tuesday 14th November to Sunday 19th November
WHERE: ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe
COST: Tickets start at $25
INFO: 480-965-3434, www.asugammage.com