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The City Journals

‘Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations’ brings an engaging and soulful production to Eccles, January 10-15

Jan 06, 2023 02:34PM ● By Peri Kinder

Set in a time of civil unrest, Ain’t Too Proud is a high-energy musical that follows five Black male singers and dancers who started the group the Elgins in Detroit in 1960, but later rose to fame as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame group The Temptations. 

The show tells the story of the original five Temptations - Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Otis Williams and Paul Williams, with their brotherhood, their conflicts, their weaknesses and the betrayals that threatened to destroy them.

Ain’t Too Proud’s energetic musical numbers highlight the unforgettable harmonies of the group as they rose to the top of the music charts with 42 Top Ten hits and 14 songs hitting the number one spot. Songs like “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Get Ready” and more are brought to life with brilliant depictions of the men behind the Motown music.

E. Clayton Cornelious is new to the touring production of Ain’t Too Proud but was an original member of the show that closed on Broadway in January 2022 due to a COVID surge. Cornelious wasn’t planning to return to the show, and in fact was preparing for New York, New York, a musical created by John Kander, Susan Stroman and Lin-Manuel Miranda, when he got the call.

“I was part of the original [Ain’t Too Proud] from its conception around the table. I was blessed and grateful to have that journey for five years,” he said. “I was about to do a new show in the spring called New York, New York but I pulled out of that when I got the offer to go on the tour. So you can see how much I love this show.”

Cornelious plays the troubled Paul Williams, a founding Temptations member who battled addiction, faced personal trials and suffered from ailing health before committing suicide in 1973. 

“I stepped into the role after James T. Lane, who played it before me on the tour, who’s actually very open about his alcohol addiction and his drug addiction,” Cornelious said. “Stepping into it, I took the remorse I had for people who struggle with addiction, like James who is a close friend of mine. I have inner demons of other sorts and I tried to pull from those inner demons.”

On Broadway, Cornelious played the different characters that come in and out of the lives of the Temptations as they grew in fame, but his role as one of the Classic Five allows him to view and perform the show in a new way. 

Cornelious, who has been a Broadway/TV actor for 25 years, learned his new role in less than three weeks and said it gives him something new to learn and look forward to each day. His favorite part of the show is when he gets to sing “For Once in My Life,” one of Williams’ best-known lead performances. 

“I may look like I’m 30 but I'm 46, so I’m an older person,” he said. “This song is almost a swan song for all the years I’ve been pushing as an actor and it’s a coming-of-age type of song. I really feel it when I’m singing it because I feel all the years I’ve put into this business. That’s my favorite part so far.”

Getting to know the men who play his fellow Temptations has been a gift to Cornelious. As an original member coming into the group, he didn’t realize how much they appreciated his presence and how much he appreciated their performance. He said it’s been the start of a great friendship between the men that he hopes can continue. 

“I’m having a ball but it’s nerve-wracking. You’re trying to not step on people’s toes but also find room for yourself. The one thing I can hold close is being on the stage with these four fantastic men because I love being a part of this show,”

Nominated for 12 Tony Awards and the winner of the 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography, Ain’t Too Proud has performances at Eccles Theater from Tuesday, Jan. 10 through Sunday, Jan. 15. Tickets are available here. 

“I always want to work on shows that are inclusive and this show is the most inclusive show of the season and the last five years. White culture, Black culture, Asian culture, every culture can connect with the songs. Anybody who lived through the ‘60s and ‘70s knows these men and the music.

“It brings people together, the music first, but the story behind the Temptations is outrageous and ridiculous. Everyone leaves crying, cheering and appreciating these men and the group even more when they leave the show. I’m excited to be on this tour. I’m excited to be part of this show again. Maybe this will be my last tour and I’m grateful I can leave on a high.”


Photo caption: (L – R)- Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Marcus Paul James, Jalen Harris, Harrell Holmes Jr., James T. Lane from the National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud. Credit: © 2021 Emilio Madrid.