Whole nations are premised on the notion that a group of imperfect people can make nearly perfect things.
That is also true of the Temptations, the drama-filled Motown supergroup whose hits continue to compel us to bob our heads, clap our hands and sing along. Their captivating songs about romantic love and other topics are that perfect thing, called from some mysterious alchemy of creativity and genius, and channeled through voices that carry hope and beauty.
The enduring power of their music is evident in the touring Broadway musical, "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations," which opened Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. It is hard to keep still during the performance of such numbers as "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "My Girl" and "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)."
To be sure, "Ain't Too Proud" is a jukebox musical. But it also expands the genre. Playwright Dominique Morisseau has crafted tight biographical details around the songs, weaving in stories of the bandmates' struggles with one another and their romantic partners. There also are tragic moments like addiction and suicide that are artfully framed by the music to make things more poignant.
But the tunes are the reason we care. They live on. And so does Otis Williams (Marcus Paul James), the last original surviving founder whose book, "The Temptations," formed the basis for this show and who narrates the action. One can argue that Williams' character is perhaps the least interesting of the Temptations, a commonsense Southerner making his way in big city Detroit.
But his steadiness, rather than the flash and flair of figures such as David Ruffin (Harris Matthew) and Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris), is what kept him alive and why the group, some 60 years on, is still active.
James brings a preacherly sonority to Williams, almost as if the show is a kind of sermon on climbing the mountain. His is a charismatic and impressive turn in a show studded with them. As Kendricks, Harris crooned like the Temptation but with the looks and charisma of a Smokey Robinson. Harrell Holmes Jr. brought an easy gait, a mama's boy innocence and his wake-the-devil bass baritone to Melvin Franklin.
The group was made up of lead singers, which is matched by the casting of Des McAnuff's relentlessly propulsive production. In addition to singing and acting, the performers also dance, showing the steps that made Motown synonymous with polish and panache. A few do some wicked splits as well in the show, choreographed by Sergio Trujillo and featuring snazzy period costumes by Paul Tazewell.
The Temptations' songs marked a historic moment not just for their Motown record label, the music factory headed by Berry Gordy. During a time when the nation was at a crossroads, their sound reflected a vision of the country where dignity and beauty triumph over baser things, even if as they grabbed hold of their achievements, their dreams sometimes crumbled in their hands.
'Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations'
Who: Music and lyrics by the Temptations. Book by Dominique Morisseau. Directed by Des McAnuff.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun. Ends July 10.
Tickets: $40-$139. 1-800-982-2787 or hennepintheatretrust.org.