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INTERVIEW: The Temptations and Questions With Harrel Holmes Jr

Harrell Holmes Jr., Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Jalen Harris, Marcus Paul James, and James T. Lane in the National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud, opening tonight at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

The touring Broadway musical Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations opens tonight at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. This jukebox musical is the final show in the 2021-2022 Bank of America Broadway on Hennepin season, running from June 28 to July 10.

The title Ain’t Too Proud comes from the name of the eponymous Motown vocal group’s 1966 hit single “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”. That song is a plea for a second chance from a lover heading out the door – a powerful plea, as it turned out, sent wafting to the top of the Billboard R&B charts in eight different weeks. Story-wise, Ain’t Too Proud the musical follows the normal jukebox band beats: early history, key moments, a big pivot…and lots and lots of glorious songs.

One of the stars of Ain’t Too Proud is Harrel Holmes Jr., a native of Saginaw, Michigan, who slips smoothly into the shoes of Melvin Franklin – The Temptations’ legendary bass vocalist. A veteran of Star SearchAmerican Idol, and more, Holmes grew up with the Motown sound all around him. Something must have stuck: in-between attending AMDA and getting cast in Ain’t Too Proud, he received a Motown Scholarship and took home a Stevie Wonder Scholarship.

Holmes spoke with the Arts Reader’s Basil Considine about life on the road and more.

Triple-threat singer, actor, and dancer Harrell Holmes Jr.

In addition to your AMDA training, you studied music production at Full Sail University. Does that aspect of your training come up in your on-stage or off-stage activities while on tour?

AMDA [The American Musical and Dramatic Academy] was my very first introduction to musical theatre, so I definitely used some of that training in preparation for this tour. The Full Sail training focused more on music production behind the scenes, so it doesn’t apply for this particular role.

The touring life is often all-encompassing. What do you do for fun when you have downtime?

I like to relax and play my PS5. Also going to the gym or going for a run outside is relaxing and allows for me to see the city of wherever we’re playing. I also like to play Spades with my cast-mates.

What was the audition/casting process for you with this show?

It was extremely intense and challenging. I started in September 2019 in Los Angeles. Then, I advanced to callbacks which were a few weeks later in NYC – which was also my first time out there. I went through an intensive week of dancing, acting, and singing in which cuts were made each day.

I moved on to final callbacks which were to take place in March 2020, which is when COVID unfortunately shut down the country. Like many around the world, that year was full of uncertainty and mental hurdles for all of us – but I stay prepared and training as much as I could. Fastforward to May 2021: I came back to NY to see the creative team and producers again. I got the final call in June that I’d gotten the role.

It was close to a two-year process in total.

The Temptations were at the heart of the Motown music-entertainment juggernaut, appearing in real-life and on television with some of the biggest names in entertainment – like The Supremes. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

How did you first encounter the music of The Temptations? What was your reaction?

I saw the 1998 Temptations mini-series when I was 7 years old and was heavily inspired. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I wanted to wear a suit every day and sing their songs.

In the fall of my 3rd grade year, I performed for the first time and sang “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.” From there, I started my own group called The Little Temptations. That started my performing journey. I haven’t left the stage since.

What are some of your favorite songs by The Temptations?

I love the classic hits like “My Girl”, “Just My Imagination”, “Cloud Nine” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”. I’m so lucky that I get to perform these songs every night!

As I’ve gotten older, I have a great appreciation for the In A Mellow Mood album and For Lovers Only, which were albums of standards that The Temptations re-made.

For fans who only knew them through radio and records, it may be surprising to learn that The Temptations had slick choreography and dance moves to go with their sleek vocals. The National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

What’s a favorite moment for this show and why?

I love our opening of Act II which is “I Can’t Get Next To You”. It’s a transitional period for the Temps, with Dennis Edwards as the new lead singer replacing David Ruffin. The set design, choreography, and costumes take the energy of the show to another level. And you get to hear each of the Temps take a lead in the song.

Five or so years back in your Instagram feed, you posted a football image emblazoned with the text “University of San Diego”. As a USD alum, I’m curious – what is the story behind that shoot?

That was a commercial that I’d shot with NFL legend Drew Brees. It was a PSA for recognizing heat stroke with teenage football players, so it was fun to play ball again for a day.

Basil Considine