They were (and some say, still are) the greatest group in R&B history with a signature sound from their beginnings in Detroit. David Ruffin was one of the tight-knit quintet until his drug and ego excesses threatened to tear the group apart and they fired him.
The national tour of Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
is coming to Broadway at the Hobby and Elijah Ahmad Lewis, who's playing the Ruffin role, says he wished more people would focus on the positives about the tenor and a lead singer of The Temptations, rather than his problems and death due to a cocaine overdose in 1991 when he was 50 years old.
Winner of the Tony Award in 2019 for Best Choreography (and recipient of 11 other Tony nominations, Ain't Too Proud is a jukebox musical featuring many of the R&B group's most successful songs ("My Girl," "Just My Imagination," "Papa Was a Rolling Stone") while telling some of what was going on in their lives on and offstage.
On Broadway, Lewis covered the roles of Otis Williams, Eddie Kendricks and Ruffin before securing the Ruffin role in the national tour coming to the Hobby Center this month, a change which has allowed him to focus even more on that character.
"David Ruffin was the front lead man of the Temptations he was a very optimistic, very funny, very funny loving [guy]. Sometimes he loved too hard. He was very spontaneous when it came to performance. He had some demons that unfortunately was put on the front street at that time," Lewis said.
Lewis had a closer connection to his character than most performers get. "My uncle J.T. Taylor was the lead singer of Kool and the Gang and worked with him in the past." In fact, when he got the natuional tour role, "I contacted his son David Ruffin Jr. who I am good friends with just started to get his point of view of who his dad was. I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to know the side that people didn’t know. I feel like a lot of people focused more on his negative side than all the positive attributes that he had granted us and given to the American landscape of music.
The Temptations are the blueprint of the male group — New Edition, B2K, and Backstreet Boys and Boys to Men, they all copied the blueprint of the Temptations," Lewis said.
Boy Bands, especially those with five members, continue to appeal to fans, Lewis said, because of their chemistry. "Everyone has their part and everyone knows the role they play. With five, everyone knows exactly what they're going to do. Everyone knows exactly what they need to do."
As for the Temptations who've gone through so many replacements since their start, "Sixty years later they're still putting out albums and still on tour so something had to have worked."
The biggest challenging? Recreating the choreography the Temptations were known for.
Photo by Emilio Madrid
The most challenging part of being in the chow has been learning the choreography from choreographer Sergio Trujillio and associate choreographer Edgar Godineaux, Lewis said. "There were a lot of iconic moves that the Temptations did that we had to learn. Anyone who was a Temptations fan would know all these moves exactly."
Lewis believes the Temptations story is a universal one.
"These were all men from Detroit who loved to sing and loved to preform. They pushed past the trials and tribulations. They pushed past segregation and they pushed past racism and once you're gone through that, you've got that amount of tough skin, you can pretty much deal with anything.
"I truly believe the Temptation story in this show is a copy of what an American story looks like. you have a dream and even though the circumstances you're in may not show that dream is possible, through perseverance and trust and belief and faith you can get to where you want to be."
Performances are scheduled for August 8-11 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For more information, call 800-982-2787 or visit thehobbycenter.org or broadwayatthehobby. $40-$150.