In May 2023, my wife and I attended two musicals at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. The first was Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill: the Musical, based on her 1995 album and more of her songs. The second was Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.
The Morissette piece was interesting because it had a narrative not driven by the songs. Instead, Diablo Cody wrote the book and seemed to plug in the appropriate tune for that narrative arc.
The story revolves around a Connecticut woman named Mary Jane Healy. She’s writing the annual Christmas letter. She brags about her husband Steve’s work promotion and son Nick’s early admission to Harvard. And, oh yeah, her adopted daughter Frankie’s art. Things are not so perfect in suburbia, however.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Electrifying, visceral and stunning. JAGGED LITTLE PILL takes a stand against complacency.”
The review headline in the Albany Times Union by Steve Barnes calls the show “pushy, overambitious, loud.” The last sentence and a half: “The show, in its own weird way, has the integrity of committed beliefs. Whether that’s your kind of theater is another matter.”
It is undoubtedly MY kind of theater, a narrative that hits on several hot-button topics, including prescription drug addiction and rape by a familiar. I accept “pushy” and even “loud.” But it was clear that the Thursday matinee audience, except for an older couple who walked out after the first song in the second act, You Oughta Know, was enthralled by the material and the actors performing it.
Jagged Little Pill played on Broadway from December 2019 to March 2020, then from October to December 2021. It’s been touring since August 31, 2022, and will be touring in Buffalo, Boston, KC, and elsewhere at least through September.
Ain’t Too Proud is a standard jukebox musical. It tells the story of Motown’s leading male singing group from the point of view of Otis Williams, the only remaining member from their heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.
Before the program began at our Saturday matinee, my wife asked if the group had stayed with its original members. Er, no. Indeed, the group’s evolution drove the narrative: Elbridge Bryant was replaced by David Ruffin, who was replaced by Dennis Edwards et al.
The music and the performances were top-notch. The TU’s Barnes calls it a “resplendent cavalcade of Temptations’ hits,” even as he questions the jukebox musical genre.
My issue was more prosaic. The show takes some liberties with the facts, probably to trim a full show. For instance, I would have concluded from Ain’t Too Proud that the Temptations reunion show took only a couple of years after Eddie Kendricks left the group in 1971.
Actually, it took place in 1982, and I attended it at the Colonie Colosseum in Albany County, NY. Glenn Leonard was one of the seven, not Damon Harris, who left the group in 1975.
I had to actively say to myself, “Self, these details don’t much matter to the audience.” And there were things the show got correct, such as Berry Gordy refusing to let the group release War as a single; it became a #1 hit for Edwin Starr.
Like JLP, Ain’t Too Proud’s run (Mar 21, 20190 -Jan 16, 2022) was interrupted by COVID. The show has been touring since December 2021. It’ll be touring the US Midwest, South, and Western Canada, among the locales, through February 2024.