There comes a time in all our lives when we are no longer as “with it” as we would hope. Maybe that one topic on which you were an expert is one where you are falling behind. You’re not listening to the cool music anymore. You’re not keeping up with the popular TV shows. Your friends online have found a new thing to laugh about and you’re still puzzling over the meme from last week. Since high school (and probably before?) I have prided myself on being “with it” when it comes to pop culture in general. I may not have seen a particular movie, but I probably know the title, plot summary, and stars. I can tell you who is likely to win awards, and what the new things coming up are.
But apparently, I’m starting to fall behind. I think I can blame at least part of that on having a baby – you hear all the time about new parents who go into a metaphorical hole when the baby is born, and then emerge a couple years later when the baby is more self-sufficient and wonder how the culture changed around them and they didn’t know. Of course, those new parents could probably tell you what all the preschoolers are watching and loving, but not so much with what other adults are talking about. The point is, I’ve fallen behind on what’s new. I think it’s been happening for a little while now – I gave up on music a few years ago and play what I like and every once in a while find something new. I’m just barely keeping up with the news and that’s because I have a morning podcast that I listen to that fills me in. TV and movies are thankfully big enough entities in pop culture that it’s hard to miss when something is coming up, but I’m definitely starting to trail behind on what’s new and interesting in theater. And as evidence of that, I present my latest outing to the Kennedy Center.
As part of our season ticket plan (which was how I went to see Hamilton), I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a few other shows this year. But the summertime is when the Kennedy Center brings in musicals, and in addition to Hamilton, this year we’ll have The Color Purple, and “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations”. I hadn’t heard of this last one, but figured it was just another jukebox musical that had popped up on Broadway and not grabbed my notice because it wasn’t that exciting.
Silly me – it turns out that we’re actually part of the pre-Broadway test for this show. It was out in Berkley last year, and it’s been touring around quietly before landing a big gig at the Kennedy Center as a pre-White Way run. At this point they are apparently just waiting for an appropriate theater to open up and to work out the final kinks in the show. It’s such a new show that there is no website for it yet. At least not one that I can find. And yes, while it’s a jukebox musical, it has a lot going for it. A lot of the hit songs that they sing are done in more of a medley style so that we get tastes of all their songs. Many of the ones that are given a full sing-through are those that maybe you weren’t as well aware of, which makes the whole production feel a little more fresh.
Additionally, the way that the production moves onstage is impressive. First off you have the basic, which is dancing, and that is delightful. It is classic Temptations-style moves, and it’s done with such earnest coordination and flair that you can’t help but smile. And when one of our “classic Temptations” drops down into the splits, you will find yourself catching your breath. But beyond just that, the stage itself is rigged up with both a circular turntable and a sliding front section that can move pieces on and off stage quickly and humorously. My favorite use of this was describing how the group got together, and how he pulled one guy from another singing group, and the others were left behind, and they are pulled offstage in a highly comical way. The center turntable allows for interesting moves and to see different angles in a scene. It’s all very clever and impressive. This is to say nothing of the impressive singing, or how Derrick Baskin as founding member Otis Williams is the heart and soul of the group, and impressively leads us through the group’s history as narrator to the show.
Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of thing I can say, “Go see it at the Kennedy Center while you can!” because the rest of the run (through this weekend) is sold out. Additionally, as mentioned above, I can’t find a website, so while it’s possible that there might be a couple more stops before this show makes it’s Broadway bow, I have no idea what they are. I feel helpless here because of the lack of information. But at the same time, it makes me feel slightly better – if this isn’t the kind of show that was making sure to have a robust web presence, and its initial run was all the way across the country, perhaps I can’t be expected to have known about it before now. So just keep your eyes and ears peeled. It’s the kind of lovely enjoyable surprise of a show that you’ll definitely be glad you saw.
Details: Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations, at the Kennedy Center through July 22. DC run sold out.