For Detroit-native and American playwright Dominique Morisseau, writing the book that brought the story of the Motown singing sensation group “The Temptations” to the Broadway stage in “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations” was a no-brainer.
Very simply, she loves them.
“I grew up on their music, I am from the city they’re from, and they feel very close to me when I think about the Motown organization that captured the heartbeat and politics of the country,” she told TNJ.com in a recent interview.
She added, “In addition to loving their music, I love their incredible human story that is not just about brothers trying to make their dreams come true, but a young group of Black men trying to become artists at a time when the country didn’t even respect their human rights.”
The Temptations featured top-level vocalists Otis Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams and David Ruffin, and won three Grammy awards over the course of their careers. “Ain’t Too Proud,” which won the Grammy award for Best Choreography and was described as “Pretty Close to Perfection!” by The New York Times and as “Dazzling & Electrifying!” by The Washington Post, opened this March at the Imperial Theater; Morisseau’s outstanding work earned her a Tony award nomination for Best Book of a Musical. She is the first Black woman to be nominated in that category. Last year, she was one of 25 artists who earned the 2018 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” award.
One of the things Morisseau had to determine from the beginning was which story to tell. She chose Williams’ journey. Founding member of the group, Williams, says Morisseau, has seen everything, and has the oldest narrative around The Temptations.
“From the beginning, this project has been a testament of faith and the belief of all the artists telling the story. Otis has been a big supporter of our work. For me as a writer, I tried to tell a story that Otis would be proud of while still telling a story that is not a perfect story. So, it was about trying to find a balance between imperfections, mistakes, vices, and physical and substance abuses the group endured. We didn’t want to make a campy, jukebox musical. There were some heavy topics involved. The group’s highs and lows were our highs and lows,” Morisseau recalls.
Audience turn out was also factored in. “Making sure we get the audiences in that we wanted was also important, especially the African American audience. This is built on their skin. Detroit is a Black city, and Motown is a Black company. We wanted to make sure it feels honest to Black audiences, so that they feel represented accurately in their memories of who the group was and what it was to everyone else in the world. It was a challenge but an important one; and we kept our eye on all of these things in telling the story,” she notes.
Challenge or not, Morisseau, whose Detroit’67 staged at the Public Theater in 2013 and later received the 2014 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, is right where she wants to be.
“I love everything about my work,” she says. “I love that it demands your creative mind; you can’t relax. You have to put a 1,000 percent into it in order to get even five percent back. I love the collaborative part of it. I have my story, then I work with a director who has his ideas, and the choreographer, music director, the cast, etc. Fusing these ideas taking the best of everybody’s ideas, and making them a part of this bigger thing makes me love to do what I do.”