Not just your imagination: ‘Temptations’ musical rocks

Berkeley Rep’s world premiere musical, which opened Thursday, Sept. 14, under the direction of Des McAnuff, makes songs resounding clarion calls from their opening beats — the teasing jazz piano riff of “I Can’t Get Next To You,” the ache-filled strings soaring over gentle guitar thrums in “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).” Richly textured, perfectly blended harmonies back lead vocals that somehow combine swaggering showmanship, meticulously honed technique and emotion of almost unbearable intensity. Channeling Eddie Kendricks, actor Jeremy Pope has an otherwordly, buttery falsetto that warbles among notes as if they were playthings. When David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes) takes the lead on the show’s title track, abasing himself before his love for an imagined woman, he howls as if to implore the grim reaper for a few minutes more to live.


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Why new Temptations play is NOT a ‘jukebox musical’

“People always say I make musicals for people who hate musicals and there is some truth to that.” – Des McAnuff

True indeed!

I never liked musicals. I think way too many of them are corny. I once saw a musical where a singer was at a train station , waiting on her train to come or something. Then all of a sudden, as soon as she drops her suitcase on the floor, she belts out a tune. I busted out laughing! I looked around and realized I was the only one in the theater laughing. Ooops!

I won’t reveal what name of the show but it won a TONY Award for best musical years ago. Ugh.

To just drop a suitcase in a train station and everyone suddenly starts dancing and singing is silly to me. Yes, I know the best musicals know how to weave the song into the dialogue and move the story forward. I think I finally understand it after 17 years in this business. But man, some producers make musicals that are kinda wack…and run for decades.

Jersey Boys? Now THAT was a musical for someone like me. There was an article in the LA Times about how more men went to see that show than many others on Broadway at the time. I feel it is one of the reasons why it became so successful. To get straight men to cough up money and be the person begging their wife or girlfriend to see a broadway musical is quite a challenge.

Producers have attributed the show’s financial longevity to repeat customers and its appeal to men, which is a rarity on Broadway.

“Men tell other men they have to see the play. When does a guy call another guy about a Broadway show?” asked Joseph Grano, a lead producer of the musical and the founder and chief executive of Centurion Holdings, a New York business consulting firm.

I liked several other musicals. Hamilton I thought was brilliant. I liked The Lion King, Avenue Q, Memphis, Lady Day, Little Shop, Evita (because I subbed on it a lot I guess), The Color Purple, Altar Boyz, Waitress….but there is something about this new show, Ain’t Too Proud, that speaks to me.

I’ve been in and subbed for a few bad shows over the years. I’ve seen others that make me leave scratching my head as to what people see in it. Again, I am not a musical kind of guy, but love to see well made shows. Hopefully you all will see this one. I’d actually pay money to see it if I weren’t in it.

Why new Temptations play is NOT a ‘jukebox musical’

Ain’t too proud to beg? If you just can’t get enough of the legacy of the Temptations, from their velvety smooth sound to their razor-sharp dance moves, better motor on over to Berkeley Rep for the new Broadway musical “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations.”

Steeped in the memories of Otis Williams, the sole surviving band member, this musical spins around a finger-snapping greatest hits catalog that spans generations, from the slick doo-wop harmony of “My Girl” to the pain and rage of “Ball of Confusion” and “Runaway Child, Running Wild.” Coming on the heels of Broadway-bound musicals such as “Roman Holiday,” “Monsoon Wedding” and “Amelie,” the highly-anticipated “Temptations” tuner, which is getting its world premiere through Oct. 8 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, definitely has aspirations to a Broadway run. The musical charts the rise of the iconic Motown group amid the turbulence and chaos of the Civil Rights era.

“For me the Temptations are more than just a band, they are an American institution,” says director Des McAnuff, famed for helming “Jersey Boys” and “Tommy.” “They were at the vanguard, not just musically but also culturally and politically.”

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An Exclusive First Look at Audra McDonald in HBO’s Live Filming of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill

I’m very happy to have been a part of this project. I had a great time working with Audra McDonald, Shelton Becton and George Farmer.

I can’t wait to see how it turns out:

HBO has filmed Audra McDonald in her Tony Award-winning performance as Billie Holiday in Lanie Robertson’s play with music Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill for future broadcast. We have an exclusive first look!

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Broadway comes to Frenchmen Street for HBO filming of ‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill’


As the Tony Awards have already recognized, Audra McDonald is stunning in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” which re-creates a late-1950s performance by Billie Holiday at a small Philadelphia club. Thursday (Dec. 18) afternoon in the former Café Brasil, an audience of about 50 – some privately invited, some paid actors – got to see McDonald and a three-piece band re-create the show’s Broadway magic for an upcoming HBO special.

Two other tapings this week will be combined for the TV special, to air in 2015.

Prop cocktails were already in place on the small tables in front of the stage when the audience entered. Artificial smoke further set the saloon mood. The Broadway production of the play, originally written for off-Broadway in 1987 by Lanie Roberston, was staged earlier this year at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

HBO and the special’s producers looked at several possibilities for recording the show — which also features Broadway-cast originals Shelton Becton on piano, George Farmer on bass and Clayton Craddock on drums – including a studio soundstage.

No doubt Louisiana tax credits also played a role, but “vibe” was why they chose a small, shuttered Frenchmen Street nightclub.

“We were pitched doing this in studios,” said Allen Newman, executive producer. “We were pitched doing this in New York. And Lonny Price the director and Audra and I and Lanie all agreed we needed to find the right vibe. We needed to find Emerson’s Bar & Grill. And we needed something funky, and we needed something that could be Philadelphia circa 1959. We decided that this was the place.

“This had the right vibe.”

Funky it is. The Café Brasil bar was incorporated into the otherwise built-from-scratch floor-to-ceiling set. Sound-deadening, light-blocking blankets were hung over the exterior walls. The afternoon shooting schedule was picked to bypass some of the entertainment district’s busy street life, but some interaction was unavoidable. (As were the show’s production trucks, parked along Chartres.)

“Circa 1959, there were people,” Newman said. “There were cars. That ambiance can still exist. The things we needed to avoid were trucks going by, Harleys with that huge sound. You don’t want that. The general sounds of the neighborhood were logical for what we’re doing.

“Audra summed it up best. She was on stage with us a few days ago when she had just come into the venue to work. She said that this venue is perfect because this is the kind of environment that Billie would’ve played at the end, a very small club, and this would’ve been the neighborhood that she would’ve enjoyed before and after the show.

“The room has a presence, and it impacts what Audra does, and it impacts how it looks, and it impacts the overall feel.”

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