“Temptation” describes Broadway in Detroit’s 2020-21 offerings, from its opening show, “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations,” to Disney’s “Frozen,” to a return engagement of “Hamilton.”
Cast members of “Ain’t Too Proud” performed a sneak preview for season subscribers and the media Feb. 24 at the Roostertail in Detroit — where the original Temptations performed decades ago — along with a live interview featuring Otis Williams, founder and sole surviving member of the original Temptations, and playwright Dominique Morisseau.
The musical kicks off its first national tour in Detroit at the Detroit Opera House July 29 to Aug. 9 as part of the Broadway in Detroit season.
Evrod Cassimy, morning anchor at WDIV-TV Channel 4 in Detroit, moderated the live interview with Williams and Morisseau, to the delight of the rapt crowd.
Williams said it is always great to come home to Detroit.
“I still have family members here, but it is also great to come here because you have all been supporting us through our many different changes, and you have been here every time we have been here to perform,” Williams said. “I love you guys and girls.”
Morisseau, a Detroit native, said this is her first time back in the city with Williams, whom she first met in Los Angeles, and with whom she worked to create the script for “Ain’t Too Proud.”
“Being able to get his story, and to learn about The Temptations through his eyes, and being back here, with him, is truly significant,” she said. “Now, when I walk down Grand Boulevard, and when I am driving the streets of Detroit, I now see that not just as my family’s memories, but I now see that as Otis growing up, and it has a different resonance for me, so it’s really special being back here.”
Williams said Motown always will be “the greatest recording company in the history of the business.”
“Motown is known not only for the hits that they produced – Motown sent its artists to school,” Williams said. “No other recording company in the history of the business did that. We had to go to a division called ‘artist development,’ and through those efforts we were able to learn about show business.
“They wanted us to be established as artists that could make a very good living, whether we had another hit record or not, which we were able to do. So, Motown has been wonderful for us and a lot of other up and coming artists.”
Williams said the 60th anniversary of The Temptations’ formation was approaching.
“We wouldn’t have been able to last all these many years if it wasn’t for the love and dedication you all have shown us, through the years,” he said to the audience.
Williams said his favorite Temptations song is “My Girl,” and said that when the group made the mistake of taking it out of its lineup, fans became very upset.
“We will never, ever take ‘My Girl’ out of the lineup,” he said. “That is a mainstay.”
Morisseau said that while she is pleased that the show is doing well on Broadway, it is meaningful to be back in Detroit where the group began.
“I think what is really special about our show is that it is written by a hometown girl,” she said. “I am not shy about a lot of the homage that we pay to Detroit in the show.”
Morisseau said she knows Detroit feels a particular ownership over The Temptations.
“So, for me to be able to be that person, that can say that I am from here, that I grew up here, that I know those streets that they grew up on, and then to be able to have shown it to the world, to bring it where it really began, to have the opening of our national tour start in Detroit, is what I always wanted for us,” she said. “It is paying a special tribute to this city, as the city so deserves, and so I feel really excited about bringing it home.”
Williams said the first meeting he had with Morisseau was relaxed, while the second time was more emotional.
“The second time, they kind of drew blood,” he said. “Not in the real sense.”
Williams said that, over the years, he learned to suppress a lot of the things that The Temptations went through.
“So, as I am telling this, on the real side, tears started to well up,” he said. “This wonderful lady, she grabbed this right arm. She said, ‘Lay it on, brother. I am right here with you.’ The powers of a woman.”
He said the musical was going to be about more than the hits and the flashy moves and the staging, but about what the group members lived through.
Morisseau said that while she has worked with other artists to tell their life story, Williams is one of the most generous people with whom she has worked, and that because of the depth of his interaction with her, she was able to put that depth into the show.
“There are moments where a Temptations song like “I Wish It Would Rain,” which might traditionally seem like it is talking about one kind of love, ends up being a song, in this show, about men talking about their nation, and the loss of the civil rights leaders,” she said. “I don’t want to give anything away about the show, but it is dealing with the world at large, and not just their personal interactions.”
Morisseau said another of her favorite parts of the show is at the end, when they are singing a Temptations song which she said, “goes gospel.”
“The way that gospel moment happened in rehearsal, seeing the faces of all of the cast members, when they figured out, ‘Oh, this is what we have to do with this,’ after everything this group has gone through, and Otis has gone through, it felt like we needed to bring in the spirit,” she said. “It was truly a collaborative moment with our team, and it is one of those moments that feels like this is right.”
Williams said he gave the cast insight into portraying the original members of The Temptations, and that they are doing “a wonderful job.”
Cassimy praised Morisseau for writing plays about Detroit which tell the country about the Motor City, and asked her why that was important to her.
Morisseau said she has “about 300 family members” in Detroit, so talking about the city “is talking about her family.”
“It is part of my history and my upbringing,” she said. “I think it is a unique city, and what Detroit gave birth to in this room (at the Roostertail), this is evidence right here. But what it gave birth to in terms of industry is what keeps this country running.”
Morisseau, a graduate of Cass Technical High School in Detroit, and the University of Michigan, also praised Detroit’s fostering of the arts.
“The Detroit arts scene built my artistry,” she said. “In many ways, I want to give back to that, but also, as a storyteller, the media hasn’t always told the story of the city of Detroit fairly or with love, but there needed to be a narrative of someone who is from here, to write about the true humanity of the city of Detroit.”
Williams said he hopes the original Temptations would have been pleased with the play.
“I had no inclination that I would be here to tell this story, written so wonderfully well by Dominique,” he said. “I would like to think the guys are smiling from heaven.”
Other temptations on the season playbill include Disney’s “Frozen – The Musical” in August and September at the Detroit Opera House, and, at the Fisher, “The Band’s Visit” in October and November, “The Cher Show” in December, “Hairspray” in February, and “Mean Girls” in February and March.
“Hamilton,” which is not part of the season subscription series, will return to Detroit in March and April, 2021, for which season subscribers will receive priority seating.
Season tickets start at $319 for the six-show subscription. For more information about the Broadway in Detroit 2020-21 season, call 313-872-1000 or go to Broadway in Detroit.com.