Otis Williams and Michael Andreaus only met a few years ago, but two things they share – a love of singing and a rich tenor/baritone voice – found them on parallel tracks.
Williams used his voice in the early years of Motown Records to power The Temptations to the top of the charts, a journey Andreaus relives now on stage, playing Williams on the Broadway tour of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations.” The show opens a six-day run at Providence Performing Arts Center on Jan. 23.
“I still would never imagine,” Williams says of the show, which he’s seen multiple times. “All because I just wanted to sing!”
The Texas native, whose family moved to Detroit for work in the 1950s, recalls searching his new home for others who wanted to replicate the gospel sound of Mahalia Jackson and The Harmonizing Four that he grew up hearing.
“Rock ‘n’ roll was in its infancy, but I remember being in the Fox Theatre and seeing 5,000 people going crazy over what was going on onstage,” Williams says. “Seven years later, I had my group, and we were getting the same reaction.”
This and other stories were exactly what “Ain’t Too Proud” creators wanted as they penned the musical. He shared memories of touring the segregated South – being shot at, called names, ignored in restaurants – and how, as “Southern boys,” the group “dealt with it the best we could.”
Williams thinks the turbulence of the 1960s helps explain the success of a recording studio like Motown, with its soothing grooves.
“Motown was no happenstance, and there will never be another recording company like it,” he says. “We were all brought together for a specific reason.”
The vision of Motown founder Berry Gordy anchors the show, Andreaus adds, showing how a new sound by Black artists eventually crossed from the R&B to the pop charts to find a wider audience. For this production, he says, the actors were given plenty of latitude, even though they’re portraying real people.
“They never really told us to be anybody else; they wanted us to bring ourselves to the role so it’s more truthful and honest,” Andreaus says.
Even so, meeting Williams was nerve-racking, as he asked how the group addressed the ugliness of segregation.
“These groups had a hand in ending segregation. Music is a powerful thing to bring people together,” Andreaus says. “We stand on their shoulders. They made the way for us to do what we do today in a mainstream sort of way.”
As far as their favorite Temptations hits, the men offered different titles. Andreaus says his picks vary, based on his castmates’ performances, but most consistently it’s “(I Know I’m) Losing You.”
“The way we do it is a little different from the original, but it’s a powerful interpretation,” he says.
Williams marvels at the depth of the group’s catalog.
All three – and more – round out “Ain’t Too Proud,” which plays Jan. 23-28 at Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St. For tickets, $45 and up, call (401) 421-2787 or go to ppacri.org.