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STAGE REVIEW

‘Ain’t Too Proud’ tempts with distinctive dance moves and indelible hit songs

From left: Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Marcus Paul James, Jalen Harris, Harrell Holmes Jr., and James T. Lane in "Ain’t Too Proud."Emilio Madrid

The breakout star of the Broadway touring production of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” is choreographer Sergio Trujillo. Of course, the fact that dance dominates this musical biography reflects the Temptations’ ability to distinguish themselves from so many other outstanding Motown artists with their distinctive moves. And it doesn’t hurt that their music, including “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” and dozens more (they had 37 Top 40 hits), spans more than a half-century and has been baked into American culture.

The Temptations’ position as the No. 1 group in rhythm and blues history makes them ideal for the Broadway jukebox musical treatment. Based on original Temptation Otis Williams’s memoir, “Ain’t Too Proud,” which runs at the Opera House through May 1, brings together a can’t-miss creative team: director Des McAnuff and choreographer Trujillo, who collaborated on “Jersey Boys” and “Donna Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” The ringer, if you will, is Dominique Morisseau, who wrote the book for the musical and whose plays, including “Skeleton Crew” and “Pipeline,” capture the love behind work that can sometimes be hard, in every sense of the word.

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The challenge with giving Otis Williams all the responsibility for telling the story is that “Ain’t Too Proud” starts to feel like a slideshow of musical highlights narrated at high speed, with historical references dropped in occasionally to help keep us on track. While he tells us from the outset that the Temptations’ emphasis was always on the group, not individuals, the interchangeability of the members makes it harder to lock into a narrative about the people behind the music.

The linear storytelling slows the drama down, and the stops at boozing, drugging, womanizing, and marital breakups, as well as nods to the social and political upheaval of the ‘60s, feel more like boxes that must be checked than revelations about individuals responding to the pressures of fame and the world around them. But when the show turns back to showcasing the music and the Temptations’ stunning performances, the audience is lured right back and ready to swoon.

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This touring company features a high-energy cast who make Trujillo’s endlessly inventive moves look stylish and sleek. And, while every member of the group among the “classic five” Temptations gets a solo, James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Jalen Harris as the tenor Eddie Kendricks (“Just My Imagination”), and Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin (“My Girl”) are the show-stopping standouts, while Treston J. Henderson, as the group’s early, short-lived lead singer, steals every scene he’s in, even when he’s also playing hitmaking songwriter Norman Whitfield.

While the Temptations were lauded for the blend of their voices, the mix at the Opera House favored the soloists, muddying the harmonies. That meant that Harrell Holmes Jr., as the deep-voiced Melvin Franklin, got a bit lost in the shuffle, although he helped add some much-needed nuance to the production as the group’s easygoing member. Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams sang and danced along with the rest of the group but focused much of his energy on his duties as narrator.

There are scenes in the offices of Motown mastermind Berry Gordy, when the tension between his notion of carefully cultivated crossover artists and the personal and creative needs of his artists seeps through and makes us lean forward. But there are too many years to cover, too many members of the Temptations to introduce — a total of 25 appear onstage for a reunion tour — and too many songs to cover.

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Even though the show drags a bit, the curtain call reprise of “I Can’t Get Next to You,” which included every member of the company and revealed the band, including two drummers and some horn players, left the audience dancing in the aisles.


AIN’T TOO PROUD: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Presented by Broadway in Boston. At the Citizens Bank Opera House. Through May 1. Tickets start at $25. 888-616-0272, www.broadwayinboston.com

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.