Stars dish with the legends they play in the Temptations musical

Successful tips for life on the go? Otis Williams has a lot. As the last surviving original member of Motown supergroup, The Temptations, Williams has toured most of his life. Rock stars may be known for partying, but at 81, Williams knows better.

“When we’re done with the performance, I go to my room,” he says. “You have to have that calmness, you can’t burn the wick at both ends.”

Williams grins from his Zoom box while the three men who join him on the video call nod their heads in agreement, laughing. The person laughing the most is actor Marcus Paul James, who plays Williams in the touring version of the musical Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations, which runs at the Ahmanson through January 1.

They will be joined by longtime Temptations manager Shelly Berger and actor Reed Campbell, who plays Berger on the show. The friends gathered to chat about what it was like touring the hit jukebox musical. Williams and Campbell have something to say about the surreal and blessed experience of seeing large parts of their history come to life on stage – and James and Campbell about the heavy responsibility of inhabiting the tales of living legends.

“We’re telling a story about a man, but a man and a very big legacy,” says James, who, in his role as Williams, narrates the plot in the musical, written by playwright Dominique Morisseau and based on Williams’ 1988 memoir.

Tracing the origins of one of soul’s greatest success stories, Ain’t Too Proud was nominated for 12 Tony Awards when it premiered on Broadway in 2019, including Best Musical. It realizes the silky smooth movements and stylishly dubbed swagger of the Temptations .

Two men pose for a photo.

Otis Williams, left, of the Temptations, shared his moves with actor Marcus Paul James, who plays the famous singer in ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ at the Ahmanson Theatre.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

After a COVID-related delay, the US tour began almost a year ago – with James and Campbell as co-riders. Williams and Berger were there in spirit, if not in person, every step of the way.

James says he makes sure to have dinner with Williams as often as possible to ensure he fully understands the events he is tasked with dramatizing.

“We have the script and the script is the story, but we just want to back things up,” says James. “As theatrical as it may seem, did this really happen?”

James gives an absolutely perfect impression of Williams’ baritone voice when describing Williams’ usual answer to this question: “Yeah, and there was more.”

The “more” of these stories is always the best part, say both James and Campbell. The Tidbits Only Williams and Berger Can Tell – Gathering threads of memory from the living tapestry of their extraordinary lives.

Like when the Temptations sold out the LA Forum in the late ’60s, and there were so many fans on stage that the group had to quickly figure out how to escape after the show. Williams says they didn’t finish their last song but ran off in different directions. Williams hit a fence and jumped over it, encouraging Eddie Kendricks to do the same. Kendricks did his best to clear the fence, but a fan grabbed him by the seat of his pants.

“He came into the dressing room half-naked,” Williams recalled. “And we burst out laughing.”

Berger remembers the Forum show for a reason all his own. When the forum opened, the Supremes were the first act to sell out the venue, he says, adding that he also ran that group. The Temptations were due to play shortly thereafter, and Berger racked his brains for ways to make the Temptations show extra special.

On the day of the show, he asked the promoter if there was an extra row of seats anywhere. He was told there was a row of six seats sitting around.

“And I said, ‘Can you do me a favor? Could you list these six seats for sale? I don’t care where you line up, but you put the six seats up for sale, which they did,” says Berger. “So, consequently, the Temptations broke the Supremes’ record for selling out the forum.”

Shelly Berger, left, the longtime manager of "The temptations" is played by Reed Campbell "Is not too proud."

Shelly Berger, left, the Temptations’ longtime manager, is played by actor Reed Campbell in Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

The soundtrack to these anecdotes is the icing on the cake – the dozens of chart-topping hits that generations of fans have memorized in more than 60 years. My Girl, Cloud Nine, I Can’t Get Next to You, Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) ” and more.

Campbell remembers singing “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” as a little boy. He says he was always drawn to the drums early in the song — the way they pound before settling on the cymbals and the vocals kick in: “I know you want to leave me, but I refuse to let you.” to let go …”

“It’s so iconic, and 8-year-old Reed was trying to sing on tape and do all the parts,” Campbell says, a shy smile spreading across his face. “The beginning of this song will forever take me to my living room as I hit the tape and try to get the right sound and rhythm.”

Williams has a soft spot for “My Girl” and recalls how co-writer/producer Smokey Robinson introduced the song to The Temptations and how, under their artistry and with the addition of the strings and horns, it became an instant classic. So much so that when the group performed the Apollo shortly after the song’s release, they received telegrams of congratulations from the Beatles, the Supremes and Motown Records founder Berry Gordy for a No. 1 record.

James also loves “My Girl” and adds that although he’s probably sung it thousands of times, he keeps it fresh. Berger holds a special place in his heart for Paul Williams’ rendition of “For Once in My Life,” adding that the song features prominently in the musical.

“My heart just fills with love and pain just hearing Paul sing this song,” Berger says upon hearing it on the show.

Williams and Berger will never be casual viewers of Ain’t Too Proud. The show will always fill her with pride and joy — and a certain dizziness.

“I’m like a little kid amazed,” Williams says of making a musical about his life. “You could have knocked me over with a feather before I believed that.”

“Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of Temptation”

Where: Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave., LA
When: 8 p.m Tuesday to Friday, Saturday 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. Monday 19 Dec 8pm; no performance on December 25th. Ends January 1st. (call for exceptions)
Tickets: $40-$189 (subject to change)
Information: (213) 972-4400 or
Duration: 2 hours and 35 minutes, including a break
COVID protocol: Masks are strongly recommended. Stars dish with the legends they play in the Temptations musical

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