Back in their heyday, The Temptations moved constantly and effortlessly, delivering their tunes in a suave style that’s still emulated by singing groups today. Behind the choreographed steps of the Motown hit-makers, though, lurked individual struggles and the sociopolitical swirl of the ’60s, which the group reflected in biting psychedelic soul. The legendary act’s backstory comes alive in the Broadway-bound jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations,” which opens Tuesday at the Kennedy Center for a five-week run that marks the show’s East Coast premiere. Coordinating all the moves is choreographer Sergio Trujillo, whose résumé includes such pop music Broadway treats as “Jersey Boys,” “Memphis,” “On Your Feet!” and the current “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” Trujillo says “Ain’t Too Proud,” like The Temptations themselves, stands out from the rest.
The Temptations are the tops
“Out of all the autobiographical shows I’ve done based on groups, for me I felt like this was the one that I had a big responsibility to make sure that I paid true homage,” Trujillo says. “They were smooth and refined, but there was so much soul to them.”
The show sticks to the classics
“Ain’t Too Proud” concentrates on the “Classic Five” era of The Temptations — featuring David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams from 1964 to 1968 — as well as a couple of the members who joined in the ’70s. The musical could only tackle so much, Trujillo says. “There were 24 different members,” he says. Plus, The Temptations’ story isn’t finished: The group released a new album, “All the Time,” last month. Otis Williams, 76, is the only original member who remains in the act.
Every song tells a story
Each number gets a unique treatment in “Ain’t Too Proud,” with the dance moves adapting to each era “the same way the clothing changes in our show,” Trujillo says. The staging of “My Girl” retains some of the corny moves from the group’s original performances. “I Can’t Get Next to You” “is thrilling and exciting,” he says. “ ‘Get Ready’ just grabs you. ‘Cloud Nine’ is extraordinary.” The 1964 classic “The Way You Do the Things You Do” comes “closest to what the Temptations were,” Trujillo says.
The dancing steps things up
“I’ve taken the way that they move as inspiration, but created my own trademark choreography,” Trujillo says. “That’s not to say that I’m trying to put hip-hop into the show. But I really have to remember that we have evolved, dance has evolved, music has evolved. I have to think: If I were the choreographer for The Temptations, what would I do with them today?”
‘Jersey Boys’ this ain’t
“With ‘Jersey Boys,’ if you think about it, The Four Seasons never even danced,” Trujillo says. “I created all that movement.” For “Ain’t Too Proud,” “I was able to use The Temptations and people knowing that they danced as my launching pad and the platform from which I can explode onstage.”
Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; Tue. through July 22, $59-$159.