Skip to main content

Home Music Music News

Ain’t Too Proud: the story behind the new musical celebrating The Temptations

As a new musical celebrating the life and times of The Temptations hits the West End, we tell the story of the show's genesis.

By Lee Campbell

The cast of Ain't Too Proud

The lone surviving member of The Temptations original line-up, Otis Williams is still touring the world, belting out those classic Motown numbers at the age of 81. He rarely sang lead vocal for the band, however there is no doubt that he has constantly been the stand-out leader and organiser.

Now, almost four years to the day after its Broadway debut in the States, ‘Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations’ is coming to the West End in London from March 31st at the Prince Edward Theatre. Williams’s enthusiasm and passion burns as bright as ever, and he is very aware of the adoration that exists in these islands for the sounds of The Temptations – “The UK has always loved our music and embraces it as much today as it did 60 years ago. All of us involved with the show can’t wait to share this very production with you all.”

The musical has already been a Tony Award winner in the U.S. in 2019 for ‘Best Choreography’. ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ also has a book by Kennedy Prize-winning playwright Dominique Morisseau and reunites two-time Tony Award winning director Des McAnuff with Tony & Olivier Award winning choreographer Sergio Trujilio.

As for the key cast members, South Africa-born Sifiso Mazibuko plays the timeless Otis Williams with Tosh Wanogho-Maud as the explosive David Ruffin. Cameron Bernard Jones (originally from NYC) as Melvin Franklin, Kyle Cox as Paul Williams and Mitchell Zhangazha as Eddie Kendricks complete the “Classic Five” line-up. Jones, Mazibuko and Zhangazha all have had lead roles in the smash West End production of ‘Motown’ where Jones also starred as Melvin Franklin.

Cox has recently been in ‘Elf’ at the Dominion Theatre and previously played Wyatt in ‘Crazy For You’ at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Tosh Wanogho-Maud’s impressive theatre CV includes the part of Ben E King in ‘The Drifter’s Girl’ at the Garrick Theatre, ‘Dreamgirls’ at the Savoy Theatre, ‘The Book of Mormon’ at the Prince of Wales Theatre and a young Simba in ‘The Lion King’ at the Lyceum Theatre. Mitchell Zhangazha picked up the Black British Theatre Award 2022 in ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ at the Noel Coward Theatre. He has also played the role of the young Michael Jackson in ‘Thriller Live’ at the Lyric Theatre and on tour.

The Temptations were eventually galvanised in Detroit, Michigan in the early 1960s. Members Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams started singing together in church as children, whereas Texas teenager Otis Williams moved to Detroit to be with his mother when he was ten years old where he also befriended Melvin Franklin. In 1963, the Temptations began working with Smokey Robinson as producer and writer. The “Classic Five” era really began in early 1964 with the departure of Al Bryant in Christmas 1963 and the subsequent arrival of David Ruffin. Sadly, The Temptations story is peppered with tragedy. Paul Williams, took his own life at 34, and David Ruffin died from a drug overdose at age 50.

The cast of Ain’t Too Proud

The character of Otis Williams narrates the captivating story with all its ups and downs throughout the musical. It is far from being just a sugar-coated, greatest hits playback or “jukebox bio” which it has been widely tagged as in various critiques. This show is a mirror of true life; joy, heartbreak, bigotry, alienation, success. It should be remembered that The Temptations existed at the height of some of the hottest tensions in the U.S in terms of civil unrest and the rights struggle for Black America.

Personal and political conflicts threatened to tear the group apart, with David Ruffin (brother of Jimmy) being sacked from the band in June 1968 just a matter of months after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Ruffin had only been with the band since January 1964 and had eventually demanded diva treatment as lead singer, travelling to gigs in a private, mink-lined limousine with his then-girlfriend, singer Tammi Terrell. He had become a heavy cocaine user, building tension within the group, causing him to miss a number of group meetings, rehearsals, and performances. Despite the challenges that Ruffin brought to the band, it is his voice that brought the secret ingredient that helped catapult the group into super-stardom. ‘Ain’t Too Proud ‘ is simply beyond just the music and is a thrilling story of brotherhood, family, loyalty and betrayal, set to the beat of the group’s Grammy Award-winning music including the hits ‘Just My Imagination’,  ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ and of course, ‘My Girl’.

The accolades that the band have amassed is mind-blowing. They have a haul of 42 Top Ten hits, with 14 of them reaching Number 1. The Temptations have over 50 gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards combined, and have been awarded no less than five Grammy® Awards, including the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy® Award. They won Motown’s, and their first ever Grammy in 1969 for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance by a Duo or Group for their song “Cloud Nine.” The group were also named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘100 Greatest Artists of All Time’. ‘My Girl’,  released in December 1964, was their Number 1 record and remains their most beloved track. 1989 saw the group being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, followed by the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles in 1994. More recently in 2019 they were given a star on the Apollo Theater’s Walk of Fame in Harlem, New York City.

The show brings together a multitude of stellar talent behind the scenes that have helped pull the adventure on stage together. It promises to be quite the spectacle, visually on a par with the quality of the music. It has scenic design by Tony Award nominee Robert Brill with Paul Tazewell, a Tony winner, leading the way with costume detail. Award winners Howell Binkley and Steve Canyon Kennedy for lighting design and sound design respectively merge once again following their collective success on ‘Jersey Boys’. Projection Design is by Drama Desk Award winner Peter Nigrini, with hair & wig design by Charles G. LaPointe. Music arrangements are by Kenny Seymour with the orchestrations by Drama Desk Award winner Harold Wheeler. Music direction is by Matt Smith. UK production is by Ira Pittelman, Tom Hulce, Stephen Gabriel and Jamie Wilson.

The story of the musical is based on the 1988 memoir, ‘The Temptations’ co-written by Patricia Romanowski and Otis Williams. It charts their rise, fall and resurgence in an honest, insightful and inspiring manner. The band were operating in the maelstrom of huge social change in America. However, with the power of record executives and the popularity of the group across the racial spectrum, The Temptations rarely got to express their true political opinions through their songs. Case in point, the anti-Vietnam song ‘War’, which was a hit for Edwin Starr in 1970 had been originally earmarked for The Temptations the previous year. However, there was a decision taken not to release their version at that time at the risk of alienating some of the group’s more conservative fan base. The group were dismayed at this stance. Therefore, it is a real highlight of the musical that not only is “War” sung in all its glory, but also the song “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)”, is featured on stage. The latter was one of the few political statements that Motown let The Temptations release in 1970.

One of the most moving scenes of the musical is Scenic Designer Robert Brill’s use of huge photo stills of Martin Luther King’s funeral that transport us back to that day in 1968. Fast forward to 2023 and all that has transpired in recent years including the shocking death of George Floyd in 2020, racial injustice and continued marginalisation of minority groups, perhaps there has not been the sea-change in a positive direction that we all would have hoped for since the birth of The Temptations. Consequently, this brilliant musical gives the band the opportunity to continue to be a voice of aspiring and enduring transformation, no longer muzzled by record company business priorities. The Temptations are the No.1 group in R&B history, with many of us having been touched by their music at some point in our lives. The musical brings together this array of classic songs, but also lifts the lid on what drove them as a band and the political and social backdrop that still lingers to this day.

Tickets for ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ are on sale at

The Temptations recently celebrated their 60th Anniversary with a brand-new album, ‘Temptations 60’.