For hours Wednesday night, downtown Detroit resonated with the unmistakable sound of Motown.
Hundreds flocked to the Detroit Opera House for “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations.” The award-winning musical, which traces the journey of legendary namesake R&B group from the Motor City to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, debuted this week as part of Broadway In Detroit’s 60th anniversary season.
Before the show hummed to the beat of their most notable songs, including “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination,” “Get Ready,” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” the Detroit Youth Choir regaled crowds in the summer sunshine outside with their renditions of the hits.
The medley delighted those such as Ron Batten, a Metro Detroit native who waited nearly two years to see the musical in his hometown.
The enduring popularity of the selections that made the Temptations world-famous was a testament to “the Motown sound,” the 71-year-old said.
“It’s the drums, the horns, the strings, the voices, the rich harmony,” Batten said while standing outside the venue. “The Temptations are like a blueprint for all the other male groups during the time I was growing up in the ’60s.”
Toasting that longevity was a constant refrain as the attendees arrived for the show and gathered to celebrate the stars in it who walked the red carpet beforehand.
Written by Detroit-born playwright Dominique Morisseau, “Ain’t Too Proud” had been slated to open here in summer 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic.
The musical, which earned a Tony Award in 2019 for choreography, closed on Broadway earlier this year but has a national touring production.
Otis Williams, the lone surviving founding member of The Temptations, was joined by Morisseau as well as some of the musical’s cast and those in the Motown orbit at the red carpet event.
Though he has seen the production before, Williams said he always welcomed a walk down memory lane and hearing the “excellence” the group produced.
“People can identify with it,” he told The Detroit News. “We were singing pain, love, hope, the whole nine yards.”
Cal Street, a member of the Velvelettes, a female group signed to the Motown label, agreed.
The records are so memorable, she said, even children born in the 21st century, more than 50 years after some first were released, instantly recognize them.
“It’s timeless,” she said. “Motown music is a timeless journey that will be around forever. The Motown sound is so relevant, and we realize more and more each day how relevant it is.”
While the melodies stood out, the famous choruses also stand the test of time, said Melvin Moy, a Motown songwriter and brother to songwriter Sylvia Moy.
“The lyrics mean a lot,” he said. “If you notice the lyrics of Motown, it’s really about love, the human condition, interpersonal relationships. It’s all uplifting, positive.”
The soiree came two days after a celebration toasting an expansion of the Motown Museum. It included a new outdoor plaza in front of Hitsville USA, the home where the legendary company started, as well as the four surrounding houses on West Grand Boulevard.
On the same day, Lamont Dozier, the acclaimed Motown songwriter and producer, died at 81.
Patricia Cosby, a Motown Library staffer and wife of writer/musician Hank Cosby, noted the loss was painful since those who owed their success to the label long were close.
“We did so much together,” she said. “When you hear ‘the Motown family,’ that’s very true.”
“Ain’t Too Proud,” which runs through Aug. 28, delves into the Temptations origins as well as its ties as Motown gained prominence.
Revisiting that was a boon for Batten, who estimates he has seen the group perform, in multiple incarnations, hundreds of times over the years.
The story “needs to be told,” the Warren resident said, adding that takes on greater significance with Otis Williams entering his 80s. “Give him his flowers while he’s still here.”