Amy chats to Ryan Carter, who plays Smokey Robinson in the new musical Ain’t Too Proud, on at The Prince Edward Theatre.

Hi Ryan, how has everything been going with the show so far? 

Hey! We’re halfway through previews and I think I speak for the entire company when I say that we’re giving our all to making this show as good as it can be, and it feels truly worth it. We’ve had incredible audience response so far so we must be doing something right! Our principals are fire and the cast make me belly laugh at least twice per show. I’m having a blast.

Could you tell us a little bit about Ain’t Too Proud?

Ain’t Too Proud chronicles the rise of the legendary and unparalleled Motown group The Temptations. It’s told from the perspective of Otis Williams (played by Sifiso Mazibuko) who is the sole surviving member of the classic Temps. We meet a ton of characters who were instrumental in their success, their first manager Johnnie Mae, founder of Motown Records Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, and Norman Whitfield who wrote so many of the hits the group rose to fame with, as well as Diana Ross, The Supremes, Tammi Terrell to name but a few! It really is a celebration and honouring of the journey these five men went on to redefine what it meant to be a black artist.

You play Smokey Robinson in the show, a role you’ve played before in a different show, Motown The Musical – how does it feel to be playing the same person? And how has your approach to the character evolved?

I mean, the weight of it isn’t lost on me at all. Motown The Musical was my first West End show, and Smokey was the first principal I’d had the chance to play. On that job I was definitely swept up in the ‘West End debut’ of it rather than what it meant to be representing someone as instrumental to modern day black excellence as Smokey was. Motown The Musical was about Berry and the label, so Smokey plays a much larger role in that show. He was the only artist in Motown’s Quality Control process, so it’s safe to assume he played a part in the release of every song the label produced. In Ain’t Too Proud, we follow the Temps. He wrote a lot of their early hits, ‘My Girl’ being one of them.

Is there an added pressure when playing a real person vs playing a fictional character?

The pressure for me comes front the fact that Smokey is still alive. The majority of the characters in this show have sadly left us, but just last month I saw a video of Smokey dancing about on tour in the states. He’s still got it! The idea that Smokey might end up coming to watch me portray a version of him is wild!

Ain’t Too Proud is a transfer from Broadway. What do you think UK audiences will love about the show?

Well, the great thing about a show based around a group as iconic as the Temptations is that everyone knows at least one song from the show. I think UK audiences will adore the music just as much as American audiences, but I imagine the story of the Temp’s might not be as well-known over here. They sacrificed so much to be able to forge new ground for Black artists. I can’t wait to see how it resonates with a UK audience. 

Do you have a favourite musical number in the show?

Towards the end of Act II, we show ‘The Reunion Tour’, which sees eight members of the Temptations come together to form a super group. Not only is it an awesome story moment, but I get to share the stage with seven examples of Black Musical Theatre excellence. I can’t imagine how momentous it must be for a young black kid to see eight Black men singing and dancing as a collective like we do. The amazing thing about Sergio’s choreography is it enhances people’s intrinsic rhythm and flair whilst unifying us as a group.

You’ve been in some incredible shows in the past. What’s been a career highlight so far?

The work I did during the pandemic meant a lot to me. It forced us all to work out exactly what it is we love about live theatre, and then commit to making it work with whatever parameters we had at the time. Commercial Theatre is awesome, but I think sometimes it can feel a little soul-less, from the inside anyway. Nothing reignites passion and love for an art form like being told you’re not allowed to do it! To be specific, Now or Never (Barn Theatre) was a special project from a creative perspective. And Turn Up London was truly important for a multitude of reasons.

You also have your own production company. What kinds of shows inspire and excite you?

Oh gosh! Anything that pushes the boundaries of what theatre is. Anything that leaves an audience questioning their own perspective. Anything that brings an hour or two of joy and suspended disbelief. As an audience member, I can find entertainment and inspiration in most shows. As a creative, the work really has to do something new for me to get truly excited. Theatre has to evolve in some capacity; we can all see that it’s getting harder to convince people to buy into it. Whenever I stumble across forms of theatre that facilitate that evolution, I get really excited. It’s all out there! It’s just often above a pub, or in a basement. #SupportFringe theatre folks.

Jukebox musicals get a bad rap at times. If people are on the fence about booking a ticket to Ain’t Too Proud, what would you say to sway them in the direction of the Prince Edward?

When you have source material like the entire song book of The Temptations, it would almost be doing their story a disservice if we didn’t showcase as much of it as possible. They really don’t write music like this anymore, and what Ain’t Too Proud does is gives it the perfect housing to create a timeless legacy or love letter to it. I guarantee you’ll leave with a new appreciation for the group, and at least two new favourite songs to add to your playlists.

Ain’t Too Proud is on at the Prince Edward Theatre and booking until October 1st. You can find more info here. Keep an eye out for our review soon!

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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