In the first national tour of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,” Broadway actor James T. Lane, 44, transforms into Paul Williams, the embattled original lead singer, and choreographer of the legendary Motown singing group. The tour will begin a six-day residency at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre on March 8.
Nominated for 12 Tony Awards, and winner for Best Choreography, “Ain't Too Proud” tells the thrilling story of brotherhood, family, loyalty, and betrayal, as the group's personal and political conflicts threatened to tear them apart during a decade of civil unrest in America.
For eight shows a week, the openly gay actor embodies the highs and lows of a tortured artist incapable of escaping his own demons. It’s a story that parallels a period in Lane’s life that makes his casting feel more like a divine assignment than an additional credit on an already impressive resume. From the moment he showed up to audition for the role, to belting out Williams’ signature song, “For Once In My Life,” Lane has been appointed for such a time as this.
“The final audition was an in-person audition in New York City at Pearl Studios and there was no one there for the role,” Lane says. “I don't know what was happening, but I was the only one there. I couldn't get through the song [“For Once In My Life”] in the audition without bursting out into tears because it just meant so much,” he said.
“Another part of this character really came to the forefront, and I really brought all of myself and my experience of being free of alcohol and drugs to this audition process,” he said.
Following a dance injury on the national tour of “Fame The Musical” in 2000, Lane, who says he only previously drank socially, tells The Reckoning that he became consumed by drugs and alcohol over a four-year period that temporarily derailed his life and career.
“Somebody said to me, ‘Hey, do you want to try some ecstasy?’ And I was like, yeah, I'd never tried anything like that before,” Lane says. “I went to DC PRIDE. I’d never been to a PRIDE before. And I proceeded to lose my mind! And so for the next four and a half years, all the things that you would think could happen when someone has a particular hereditary disease called alcoholism, and a pocket full of money, all of those things happened,” he said.
A Philadelphia native, Lane says he was clear as early as kindergarten that he wanted to become a performer and matriculated through performing arts primary and high schools before briefly attending Carnegie Mellon and Penn State University. The late Cheryl Shepherd, mother of actor and Lane’s childhood friend Chaz Lamar Shepherd, who appeared as Al Bryant in the NBC miniseries “The Temptations,” was one of Lane’s teachers and major influences.
“I knew I had a gift, and I knew that it was God-given,” Lane says. “And I knew that a lot of people had poured into me over the years. And I was squandering it.”
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