When Harrell Holmes Jr. was seven, he watched an old VHS movie over his grandmother’s house in Saginaw, Mich. which would change his life forever.
“I saw this group dancing and singing,” Holmes remembers, admitting that he watched the VHS over and over again, later telling his mom that he wanted to sing in his third grade talent show.
“I wanna sing “Ain’t too Proud to Beg,” he said then, to her surprise.
He was a hit in the show, especially for the parents in the audience, who couldn’t believe the youngster was singing a Temptations song.
Fast forward to last week, when Holmes, 30, performed at the opening night of “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” at the Ahmanson Theater downtown.
“I try not to get emotional, but its’ full circle moment for me,” Holmes said. “That’s been the group for me, for sure.”
His third grade talent show led to Holmes starting his own group called — you guessed it — The Little Temptations. They performed all over Michigan, doing dance moves in their little suits.
His parents brought Holmes to Los Angeles when he was 11 to sing on the “Star Search” TV show. He sang a Temptation song, of course. He did so well that his supportive parents made a big leap and decided to move to LA permanently.
When Holmes was 15, he sang at the Hollywood Pop Academy and performed at “Overjoyed” at one of its showcases. A member of the audience came up to him and insisted he sing at a birthday party she was throwing for Stevie Wonder.
“‘Stevie should hear this,’ she said.” he remembered. He and his mother were skeptical, but they went to the home in West Hollywood anyway. They couldn’t believe it.
“He walked in the room and my jaw hit the floor,” Holmes said. “I got a chance to perform and he loved it. He sang with me and I was just blown away.”
That opportunity led to his becoming one of the Stevie Wonder Scholarship winners to sing at a “House full of Toys” concert in 2007.
He also won a Motown Scholarship a few years later and met members of the Temptations at a Motown alumni event. He submitted an original song to win.
“It was incredible,” Holmes said. “No kidding, on the program it said ‘In the program tonight, we are honoring the Temptations.’ I lost my mind.”
He got to see Dennis (Edwards) and Otis (Williams) and the group.
“I started crying,” Holmes remembered.
Holmes is a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) and in 2018, one of his friends surprised him with a ticket to “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” here in Los Angeles. He couldn’t believe it. He saw it three times here before it made its debut on Broadway.
“I said ‘man, I have to be a part of this.’”
After a number of auditions here and in New York; along with what he called “boot camp” choreography rehearsals and postponements due to covid, Holmes was chosen for his first stage role after two years.
“For it to happen, it blows my mind still,” he said. “I wish my grandparents were here. I used to sing the Temptations in their living room, breaking furniture, trying to do the choreography.”
Holmes gets to wear a “nice afro” and some funky “Blue” outfits throughout the show.
“I have the honor of playing Melvin Franklin, too,” he said. “I think the Temptations were the first to feature a bass prominently in their sound.”
Franklin died in 1995 at 52 due to complications from brain seizure, heart failure and other physical problems. Aside from being a vocalist, Franklin was also a founding member of the Temptations, where he was nicknamed “Blue,” for frequently wearing his favorite color.
Franklin was actually encouraged to retire early. Holmes believes that Franklin sacrificed his own body to be a Temptation.
“Most of all, he just loved signing for the Temptations. That was his number one pride and joy,” Holmes said. “Melvin’s facial expression and energy was priceless. That’s what I try to bring when I perform.”
“Ain’t Too Proud” is the story of brotherhood, family, loyalty, and betrayal, and is set to the beat of the group’s treasured hits. The musical follows The Temptations’ extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With their signature dance moves and unmistakable harmonies, they were voted the greatest R&B group of all time by Billboard Magazine in 2017.
Tickets for “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” are currently on sale and start at $40. They will be available through CenterTheatreGroup.org, audience services at (213) 972-4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Offices (at the Ahmanson Theatre) at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown.
Performances run through New Years Day Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Visit Holmes on instagram: @harrellholmes.