Motown legends Otis Williams, Berry Gordy, Shelly Berger and more join the opening night celebration of the new Broadway musical, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. On March 21 at the Imperial Theatre, other Broadway icons like Todrick Hall, executive producer Danielle Brooks, Ben Vereen, book writer Dominique Morisseau, and Lillias White stopped to reflect on their earliest memories of The Temptations and share their expectations for the Broadway tribute.
The Knockturnal: What is your earliest/favorite memory of The Temptations?
Danielle Brooks: Oh man, earliest memory? That’s a hard one. Well, see, the music has always been in my family. So [during] Christmas we would listen to it. On road trips, we would listen to it. Ain’t Too Proud, that one song, has always been a part of my spirit so I don’t even think I can encapsulate it in one moment.
Dominique Morisseau: Growing up in Detroit, I mean I feel like I’ve known them since the womb, but my earliest memory might be a Christmas song, Silent Night because I associate them with all my holidays.
Ben Vereen: We were in Florida, and I come to the theater and there were The Temptations opening for me! A kid from Brooklyn [screams]. The show was flawless.
Chaz Lamar Shepherd: I feel honored to be here and I’m a spectator like everyone else. I’m ready to see what they did with it. My earliest memory of The Temptations is me getting the role and playing the part of Al. It was on from there.
Blair Underwood: I don’t know, it’s kind of like talking about Motown and Michael Jackson. It was just always around. I can’t remember the earliest.
Shahadi Wright Joseph: Every Sunday we would clean up the house and then my mom would be listening to The Temptations. That was a pretty long time ago but it was great.
Dominique Fishback: I think probably seeing the movie with my mom and remembering David Ruffin stealing the show and making the girls go crazy. I mean, Ephraim Sykes does a really good job filling those shoes as well. You get a handkerchief and you [fan out].
Mona Scott-Young: Oh God, the earliest memory of The Temptations is probably my sister teaching me how to dance to their music and just kind of moving to the rhythm and the beat. I was probably 9 or 10 [years old].
The Knockturnal: What are you most looking forward to tonight?
Ben Vereen: I’m looking forward to the greatness. The fact that the legacy is being kept alive with The Temptations, our music. I’m happy for them. I’m happy for Otis and the guys. We worked together back in the day so it’s nice to see a reproduction of their work. Now, this is not exactly their work. Their work was very classy, but it is a tribute to. So I’m here to support the tribute.
Adam Zell: When Ephraim catches the mic and does the split. It’s amazing. It’s incredible.
Dominique Morisseau: I’m just looking forward to seeing how this audience gets alive for this show! We’ve been waiting to deliver this to New York and now we’re here and it’s just a special moment for all of us.
The Knockturnal: Why did you decide to come on board with this project?
Ron Simons: “Well, first of all, I’m from Detroit. So anything that exemplifies and tells the story of black people from Detroit is in the center of my wheelhouse. And the idea that it has black boys who came of age during a very tumultuous time in our nation’s history. And guess what, we’re also now (black boys) growing up in a tumultuous time in our nation’s history. And to show that these boys could not only survive but thrive and make a huge mark in the world through their music and their artistry is an important story that has to be told. Because young people today need those beacons of light. Because we don’t have that the way we did. We need to see that to say, Oh man, if they could do it then, maybe I can do it now. So by example, this is an opportunity by showing the youth that we can do something. You can do something. You just have to buckle down, work hard and dream big. That’s the most important thing, you gotta dream big. So that’s why I’m here. And because this is the song book of my childhood. I grew up in Detroit and we listened to The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, all of Motown. I can sing every song in here, verbatim. That’s how much I’m up in it. And it’s such a joyful show. I will never see the show too many times because it’s full of such joy.
The Knockturnal: What makes you proud?
Berry Gordy: Seeing this. Being here. This happening. This is Broadway and where they came from and where they are now…The Temptations coming to Broadway and going through all the tragedy that they went through and never giving up. Otis is the last surviving member and he never gave up. Never.
Danielle Brooks: I’m feeling excited. Ecstatic and great [laughter]. I’m most proud of becoming an executive producer. This is my first time at it and what a time this is.
Dominique Morisseau: I’m proud to be able to tell this story unapologetically on a stage on Broadway. These young black men being able to be their full humane selves, these black men being able to speak like they speak and sing like they truly sing best. And I’m excited to be ushering that forward.
Ben Vereen: Life. Love. Happiness. All the words that we need to infiltrate into our daily lives. Prayer, meditation, uplifting, that’s what we need. Those things make me very proud.
Shelly Berger: There were so many things on so many levels. I think, number one, Otis Williams and what he has accomplished that very few ever have. And number two that Berry Gordy is my best friend.
Otis Williams: To be able to stand here after 59 years, [when] The Temptations story is finally being told in a real sense other than [just] singing and dancing.
Shahadi Wright Joseph: My skin. Being myself. It makes me feel really confident.
Adam Zell: The history. The attire. The cast is just the most incredible cast that I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’ve done several other shows but this is the one that I am definitely the most proud of. The moves the singing.
Dominique Fishback: Being black makes me proud. I mean, I’ve always been proud to be black but seeing these people on this stage is–give us a chance and we show out. They definitely show out.
Todrick Hall: What makes me so proud to be here and for this show to be happening is to see so many talented people of color telling such an important story and getting to celebrate with these tremendous talents. I love it.
Lillias White: Accomplishments that come as a result of hard work and determination. Also, African fashion and the joy.
Mona Scott-Young: My daughter makes me proud. Being a woman and doing it in this day and age makes me so proud and just being here tonight makes me proud.
Chaz Lamar Shepherd: That I was a part of something this great and that the later generation was a part of what brought their popularity to other generations. I’ve never had the opportunity to see someone play a part that I was the first to do. So yeah, that’s kind of crazy.
For show tickets, click here.