Twenty-five men have been members of The Temptations over its 60-plus year history. But only one of that number has been there from the beginning — and continues to perform with the group today.
Otis Williams has been the de facto leader of the group since before it was known as The Temptations, yet he has rarely stepped into the spotlight during performances throughout those years, preferring instead to be part of the group’s harmonies rather than taking the lead.
To Michael Andreaus, the former Oklahoman who portrays Williams in the national touring production of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,” that willingness to let his fellow vocalists take center stage is one reason for the group’s, and Williams’, longevity.
“I think that’s a quality that really speaks to Mr. Williams’ character,” Andreaus said during a recent telephone conversation. “He was willing to take a back seat for all those years, to make sure this group was going to be successful.
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“The Temptations has had some people with huge personalities over the years, especially in the classic lineup, with David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin,” Andreaus said. “If Mr. Williams had been trying to step out front, with all these other talented people vying for the same spotlight, I don’t think this band would have lasted. But by his willingness to step back, to see the whole picture, he could see what the Temptations needed to be successful as a group, rather than a handful of solo artists trying to work together.”
“Ain’t Too Proud” is based on Williams’ memoir, “Temptations,” adapted by award-winning playwright Dominique Morriseau (Morriseau’s work has been recently performed by two Tulsa theater companies: “Paradise Blue,” presented by Theatre North, and “Skeleton Crew” by American Theatre Company).
About 30 of The Temptations’ hit songs are woven into the show’s storyline, including such classics as “My Girl,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” The show also includes a medley of songs by The Supremes, who during the 1960s and ’70s was the other top Motown act.
As Williams, Andreaus also serves as the show’s narrator, telling how members of two aspiring vocal groups in Detroit came together to form The Temptations and how artistic egos and personal demons made for an ever-changing lineup through the years.
Andreaus was originally cast to play Berry Gordy, the founder of Detroit’s Motown Records, and served as the cover for the roles of Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin, who resonant bass voice was for many years a trademark of The Temptations’ sound.
“I ended up going on as Otis Williams about 40 times during my first year with the show,” he said. “When the person in that role left to pursue other things, they offered it to me. And I appreciated that the producers and the creative team were willing to entrust this role to me.”
Andreaus added that the few times he had to go on as Melvin Franklin were always a challenge, as Andreaus’ voice is not as naturally low-pitched as Franklin’s had been.
“That was a challenge,” he said, laughing. “It took a good bit of preparation to get my voice that low, or at least low enough, that I could hit the notes when I had to. One night when I had to go on as Melvin, Theo Peoples, who had been in The Temptations. I got to meet him after the show, and he said he was impressed, so I take that as a badge of honor.”
Andreaus has had the opportunity to meet with Otis Williams on several occasions, beginning with his first rehearsals for the role.
“He would talk about being on the road with the guys, and what it was like to be a Temptation in those early days and beyond,” he said. “One of the things that really came through every time I was able to talk with him was this incredible amount of love he has for this group.
“You really get the sense that this was like a calling for him, to make this group as great as it could be,” Andreaus said. “The fact that he’s out there performing and touring — I don’t think he needs the money, or the attention. It’s just that he loves this group so much, and has such a connection to all the men who have been a part of this group.”
A native of Atlanta, Andreaus moved with his family to Oklahoma City when he was in his early teens.
“I spent a lot of my formative years in Oklahoma, and I still have family there, so it does feel like home,” he said. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Central Oklahoma, and worked with a number of regional companies including the Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City, and Theatre Tulsa, for whom he starred as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in its 2017 production of “Ragtime.”
“Yeah, I hoping to have a little ‘Ragtime’ reunion while we’re in Tulsa,” he said, laughing.