Motown hits supercharge Temptations history lesson

A scene from the touring production of Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations (Photos courtesy of Broadway in Columbus)

By Richard Ades

As you wait for Ain’t Too Proud to begin, the “marquees” projected onto the curtain establish the subject, place and mood. They advertise a “dance and show” featuring the Temptations at Detroit’s iconic Fox Theatre. And there are two additional words: “SOLD OUT.”

All of this is depicted in shades of gray, setting the tone for what is essentially a history lesson about the Temptations’ hard-fought quest to become the most successful R&B group of all time. But though that history is marked by struggle, conflict and loss, it’s accompanied by the some of the toe-tapping-est, spirit-lifting-est music that ever came out of Motown.

In other words, expect to have one of the best times you’ve ever had in a theater.

The musical’s book by Dominique Morisseau is based on a history of the Temptations written by founding member Otis Williams. Some have complained that this results in a one-sided look at the group, in contrast to the more even-handed Four Seasons musical Jersey Boys.

There’s some truth to this. Williams (masterfully played in the touring show by Michael Andreaus) serves as the history’s narrator and routinely depicts himself as the voice of reason who tries to keep the group on an even keel despite other members’ missteps, failings and ego trips. Even so, the general thrust of the show is not to cast blame but to explain how hard it is to achieve musical success, particularly when one starts out poor and Black.

The Temptations began making their mark during the 1960s, when civil rights struggles and an increasingly unpopular war were making front-page headlines. The musical touches on these issues and on the dilemma they raised for the group’s members, who were torn over whether they could address what was going on in their music without jeopardizing their “crossover” popularity with White audiences.

An interesting piece of trivia revealed by the show: The protest song “War (What is it good for?)” was meant to be recorded by the Temptations, but Motown execs decided it was too political. The result was that Edwin Starr got the recording deal and ended up with a hit.

Fortunately, the “Temps” got the chance to record plenty of other classic ballads and danceable anthems, and the best are peppered throughout the show. Thanks to Des McAnuff’s impeccable direction, Sergio Trujillo’s choreography and a cast that can handle both the tunes and the steps with aplomb, the result is like being in Detroit’s Fox Theatre on the aforementioned night and watching musical history come gloriously alive.

Along with Andreaus, central cast members include E. Clayton Cornelious as Paul Williams, Harrell Holmes Jr. as Melvin Franklin, Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, and Elijah Ahmad Lewis as the mercurial, showboating David Ruffin. Numerous others display equal levels of talent in lesser roles.

Robert Brill’s scenic design and Howell Binkley’s lighting design are eloquently restrained, refusing to upstage the singers and dancers. A good-sized band led by Jonathan “Smitti” Smith and featuring several local musicians provides the accompaniment—and gets the chance to show what it can do on its own after the curtain call.

The moral: Don’t leave early.

Broadway in Columbus and CAPA will present Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations through April 18 at the Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State St., Columbus. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2½ hours including intermission. Tickets are $40-$135+. For upcoming tour dates, visit

‘Marvelous’ series’ finale lives up to its name

Rachel Brosnahan as the titular aspiring comedian in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

By Richard Ades

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is coming to an end, and it’s doing it as stylishly as ever.

The tale of a divorced Jewish housewife who seeks success as a standup comedian will be wrapped up over the course of nine episodes during the series’ fifth and final season.

Will Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) achieve her goal by breaking through the comedic glass ceiling of mid-20th century America? It’s not giving too much away to say she will, as that’s revealed in an early-season flash-forward. What’s not revealed right away is just how she’ll hit the big time, and how her success will affect her family and friends.

It comes out in the second episode that at some point she’ll part ways with the mannishly attired Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), who became the fledgling comedian’s first cheerleader and, soon after, her devoted manager. How do they break up, and will they ever reconcile? Viewers will have to wait and see.

Her relationship with ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen), whose infidelity ended their marriage in the first season, also continues to evolve. And it does so in surprising ways, as seen in another flash-forward or two.

In fact, series creator and writer Amy Sherman-Palladino does a good deal of time-traveling from the show’s principal era of the late 1950s and early ’60s. Thus, we get to peek into the futures of several characters, including Midge’s parents (Marin Hinkle and Tony Shalhoub). We even get to see grownup versions of her children, Esther and Ethan, though they played relatively minor roles during most of the series.

Through it all, Maisel continues to impress with its amazing production values, one episode opening with a dance number worthy of Broadway. The show is also frequently funny, with, as usual, much of the humor coming from its supporting characters rather than its titular comedian. And by “supporting characters,” I primarily mean Borstein’s always-hilarious Susie, followed by Shalhoub’s rendition of Midge’s curmudgeonly and neurotic dad.

(For those who want to see if Borstein is as funny in her own skin as she is in Susie’s, a new Prime comedy special allows her to tell jokes, sing and even make a few political and philosophical points. Viewers may conclude that she isn’t quite as funny in her own skin, but they’re likely to be impressed by her versatility. As indelible a character as Susie is, she’s clearly not Borstein.)

All in all, season five is one of the series’ best, maybe even as good as season one. Fans of the show’s scrappy heroine should go away happy.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Episodes 1-3 of the final season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel can be seen on Amazon Prime Video beginning April 14. One subsequent episode will be released each Friday through May 26. Alex Borstein: Corsets & Clown Suits will air on Prime Video beginning April 18.

Pushing Native American stereotypes from the field of play

The struggle to rid the sports arena of Native American stereotypes includes rallies such as this one in Phoenix, Ariz.

By Richard Ades

I like to think journalists are a pretty smart group overall, but then I remember the newsroom argument I got embroiled in years ago over the football team then known as the Washington Redskins.

To me, the name seemed obviously racist, but a co-worker jumped to its defense. “How do you know it doesn’t refer to potatoes?” he said, trying to make light of the issue. “Because,” I replied, “then the team’s mascot would be Mr. Potato Head.”

Sadly, my co-worker was far from alone in his reluctance to question “Redskins” or the many other team names and mascots based on Native American culture. Many sports fans just can’t understand why even seemingly innocuous monickers like “Indians” or “Braves” can be hurtful to present-day Indians trying to escape age-old stereotypes.

The fight to rid the sports world of such names is the subject of Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting. Directed by Aviva Kempner and Ben West, the documentary interviews activists from various Native tribes and nations who have devoted years and even decades to the struggle.

One of them is Marshall McKay, former tribal chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, who notes that Native American stereotypes galloped through the “cowboys and Indians” melodramas he watched growing up. Inevitably, the Indians were depicted as the bloodthirsty villains, but even when they were cast as “noble savages,” the portrayals were unrealistic and one-dimensional.

McKay points out that the entertainment industry was merely reflecting racist attitudes that were ingrained in the national psyche and led to countless atrocities and injustices toward Native people over the years. Near his own birthplace, he says, the California gold rush of the mid-19th century brought the army out to protect miners, while bounties were offered for Native American body parts.

Hence, the term “redskins” is offensive for reasons that have nothing to do with the color red.

At least Hollywood began cleaning up its act with 1990’s Dances With Wolves, which helped to usher in a new era of portraying Native characters more realistically. But in the sports world, the stereotypes lived on thanks to team names such as “Chiefs” or “Braves,” as well as in caricatured mascots such as the Cleveland baseball team’s Chief Wahoo.

Adding to the insult, fans were often encouraged to attend games wearing warpaint and headdresses, and to show their enthusiasm by participating in stereotypical antics such as the “tomahawk chop.”  

The problem with all this, according to one interviewee: “It’s not who we are today.” When Native men are stereotyped as fierce warriors and Native women as Pocahontas-style sex goddesses, it obscures the varied personalities and professions they represent in real life.

The documentary brings the issue up to date by reporting recent changes for the better. For instance, the Washington Redskins have been renamed the Commanders, while the Cleveland Indians are now the Guardians. And Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo, which one interviewee refers to as “Red Sambo,” has been retired.

But according to the documentary, nearly 2,000 teams, at every level of sports, retain their Native American-inspired names and mascots. Says one activist: “We’ve been in this fight for a very long time, and we’re not going to stop.”

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Imagining the Indian opened March 31 in New York and will expand to other cities throughout April and May. For more information visit