Loading articles...

Director says Temptations musical explores timely themes of sacrifice, strength

Last Updated Sep 24, 2018 at 6:40 pm EDT

Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Jawan M. Jackson, James Harkness & Derrick Baskin are seen in this handout photo from the new Temptations musical "Ain't Too Proud - The Life and Times of the Temptations." The Canadian makers of a new Temptations musical say they're frequently reminded of how pertinent its story of racial divide remains in the current political climate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Matthew Murphy *MANDATORY CREDIT*

TORONTO – The Canadian makers of a new Temptations musical say they’re frequently reminded of how pertinent its story, set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, remains in the current political climate.

“Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations,” part of the Mirvish Productions 2018-19 season, is a jukebox musical on the surface. But Toronto-raised choreographer Sergio Trujillo says its deeper themes came to a head during previews last year in Berkeley, Calif.

Trujillo was on his way to a technical rehearsal one afternoon when he ran into crowds gathered for anti-hate demonstrations in the city.

“Here we are living in our show, which really revisits that period,” he said of the civil rights era. “Yet it reminded us how little we’ve progressed.”

Those experiences are something director Des McAnuff hopes to capture in “Ain’t Too Proud,” which runs at the Princess of Wales Theatre from Oct. 11 to Nov. 17 ahead of its Broadway debut next year. The play finds its footing in the same nostalgia as his previous work on “Jersey Boys,” but ultimately strives to portray the perseverance of the soulful fivesome from Detroit.

The Temptations rose to fame during a tumultuous period in America’s history, delivering a succession of Motown classics that include “My Girl” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” Playwright Dominique Morisseau, who is based in Detroit, zeroes in on the ups and downs of the group, including the dramatic ego clashes and one member’s alcoholism.

“There was so much personal sacrifice, risk and danger, as well as joy,” McAnuff said at a Mirvish preview of their new season Monday in Toronto.

“It really is a mythic story of American soul.”

Mirvish’s latest season also features “Dear Evan Hansen,” which begins March 5, 2019. It marks the first production of the Tony-winning best musical outside the United States.

Other shows in the lineup include a new take on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of the comedy “School of Rock,” and the Broadway musical version of the film “Waitress,” scored by Sara Bareilles.

Zany farce “The Play That Goes Wrong” and “The Last Ship,” which features Sting playing a role in the production he wrote music and lyrics for, round out the main stage productions.

Rousing success “Come From Away” plans to extend its Toronto stay by moving to the Elgin Theatre for shows beginning on Feb. 5, 2019.

The story of residents from Gander, N.L. who opened their arms to strangers in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is in the midst of a successful Broadway run. The show begins dates at London’s Phoenix Theatre early next year.

Co-creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein teased the crowd at the Mirvish preview by saying that more announcements are on the horizon.

Among others on the menu this year are several “bonus” Mirvish shows, including another round of “The Book of Mormon” and “The Sound of Music.”

There’s also acrobatic spectacle “Reversible,” from the Quebec company The 7 Fingers, and the return of “Bat Out of Hell,” Jim Steinman’s musical based on the work of Meat Loaf. The production will rev its engines in Toronto from Oct. 16 to Nov. 4 before peeling out for a 19-city North American tour.

Lead actor Andrew Polec, who played Strat at Toronto’s original engagement, returns to the part after a stint at London’s Dominion Theatre.

It’s there where he says Meat Loaf gave the cast his seal of approval.

“He sat in his private box which is usually for royalty,” Polec remembers.

“It was like rock ‘n’ roll came home to watch our show.”

The off-Mirvish season will include “Oslo,” “Next to Normal,” and “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which is a co-production with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Follow @dfriend on Twitter.