The harmony, brotherhood and life of The Tempations
Biographical ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ hits Boston stage
Before there were hits like “My Girl” and “Get Ready,” The Temptations were five young Black men who wanted to share their love of music with the world. “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,” running at the Citizens Bank Opera House April 19–May 1, tells the story of the famous Detroit-born quintet.
Elijah Ahmad Lewis, who plays singer David Ruffin, grew up with the crooning vocals and danceable beats of Motown. Thanks to his entertainment-based family, he also grew up bumping elbows with many Motown stars. He and the other actors of “Ain’t Too Proud” have had the opportunity to speak with Otis Williams for a first-hand account of the group’s legacy. Williams was a founding member of The Temptations and is the last surviving member of the original lineup. The current iteration of the group still performs today.
“Otis is like an uncle to me. We speak very often,” says Lewis. “It’s amazing to be able to tell this story from the horse’s mouth, because this show is based on his book. It’s such an honor.”
Many biographical shows of famous musicians put the emphasis on the music rather than the narrative. “Ain’t Too Proud” develops the story of The Temptations with poetry and grace. The script, written by Obie Award-winner Dominique Morisseau, explores the humanity and challenges of each performer as they traveled the road to fame.
Lewis says he feels this deep scope is especially important when it comes to Ruffin, who died in 1991 and left a complicated legacy. The singer was a dynamic presence in The Temptations, providing the lead vocals for famous tunes like “My Girl.” Unfortunately, he has been remembered also for his substance abuse and mental health challenges, which were not widely understood at the time of his fame. Lewis has had conversations with the singer’s son, David Ruffin Jr., about the man Ruffin was behind closed doors.
“Everyone always makes him out to be the villain. And of course he’s had ups and downs in life, as we all have — it’s just that his were put in front of his audience,” says Lewis. “I, in the show, like to show his humanness. I like to show how much of a comedian he was and all the human traits he had that people forget about.”
Although the group fought barriers to achieve musical success, “Ain’t Too Proud” is ultimately a story about Black success and brotherhood. Through the late nights, the hard work and the political unrest of the Civil Rights movement, it was the music and the bond between these five performers that brought them through.
“There are not a lot of positive things out there that talk about a true brotherhood in our society and our community,” says Lewis. “I believe this story is the true American story of how you have an idea, you have a dream, and you go for it.”