DETROIT – Harrell Holmes, Jr. is living his dream. When he was just 7 years old, Holmes sang “Get Ready” on Star Search. Now, he performs the song eight times a week in the first national tour of Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations playing Melvin Franklin.
We talked with the Saginaw, Michigan native about his journey to becoming a Temp, performing in his first Broadway musical, and why playing this role in Motown is so important to him.
You’re from Saginaw, so this is kind of like a homecoming for you.
Oh man, it feels great. I have a lot of family and friends coming, including my sister, so I’m super excited. I have a lot of old teachers and things. I moved away from Saginaw when I was 12, so this is going to be their first time seeing me perform since then.
How does it feel to be performing in Motown as a Temptation?
It’s a dream come true. I started singing at the age of seven after seeing the Temptations movie in 1998. So, it was my dream to be a Temptation. And as you grow up, you think, “okay, this isn’t realistic.” So now to actually portray one on a Broadway stage is beyond my wildest dreams. To know how much Motown means to the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan as a whole is incredible, I’m super excited.
Because you’re from Saginaw, I’m sure you’ve had plenty of memories in Detroit. Do you have any favorites?
My number one favorite memory is my dad and I used to have season tickets to The Lions. We used to go down there every week to Ford Field, and before that the Pontiac Silverdome. And the second was going to the Motown Museum. I haven’t been there since I was 12, but it was so incredible to see Studio A and Studio B, where all those classic hits were made.
This is your first musical ever, how did you prepare to be able to do this eight times a week?
There’s no preparation that can get you ready for a show of this magnitude eight times a week. I guess my naivety helped me in a way because I saw the show in 2018 in LA and I was like, “I can do that!” I know all the music already, so it would just be learning the dancing, acting and remembering all the lines. Fast forward to me actually getting the role. We rehearsed eight hours a day, six days a week for a month. It was like an extensive training camp, it was crazy.
With such a high intensity role like this, how do you keep your energy up for the 2 and half hours of nonstop singing and dancing?
Performing this show eight times a week is intense, especially our two-show days on the weekends. But it’s such a fun show. The music is incredible. I mean, it’s the music of The Temptations. They have so many hits, so that’s what keeps me energized. You feed off the other guys as well, so when you get that combination going, you can get through it. Also, a lot of physical therapy, massages, and all that good stuff.
Have you ever met any of The Temptations yourself?
I met Otis Williams about 10 years back briefly. I won the Motown scholarship when I was in college. On our first day of rehearsals, as soon as I got off the elevator, Otis was one of the first people I saw. Of course, my jaw hit the floor. I introduced myself and Otis said, “I know who you play, I can tell by your voice.” That just made my whole day.
I’ve had the chance to meet him a few times and we talked for hours. He has a memory bank and a wealth of knowledge and his career spans over 60 years. So, the amount of things he’s seen and experienced and for him to remember it is just so incredible.
Did Otis give you any insight on playing Melvin Franklin?
One of the most important things to Mel was being a Temptation and he would do anything possible to make it happen even when the group was in turmoil. If the guys were fighting, Melvin was that guy who would break it up and try to keep everyone focused on the goal and keep them together. He sacrificed his own life to continue being a Temptation. Doctors recommended he retire in his late 20′s when he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, but he kept telling them to give him the cortisone shots to keep performing which ultimately destroyed his body and organs.
Did you ever get to meet Jawan Jackson (Broadway’s original Melvin Franklin)?
He’s incredible, he’s the first person I followed after seeing the show in 2018. So I went to New York at Broadway’s reopening party and he went up to me and said, “Harrell, what’s going on?” I was like, “what, you know who I am?” “Of course I know who you are, you’re going to be the next Melvin Franklin.” That meant everything to me and in some ways he’s like a big brother and has been incredible through this whole process. He’s from Detroit as well, so we had that in common being from Michigan.
And now Jawan is an official Temptation in the group.
Right? And I’m so happy for him. He deserves it. His voice and everything is incredible. It was a no brainer to me when I heard it. It makes all the sense in the world.
Do you feel the pressure playing someone as iconic as Melvin Franklin?
There’s a little pressure, but I know my love for The Temptations. I took the challenge very seriously and it helped that I had 20+ years of knowledge. I knew all their music and I even went back and pulled up a lot of live performances. I pulled up interviews of Melvin to see how he spoke and interacted with the other Temps. I read all the books, so I took learning him very seriously so that when I went out there I could give a really good portrayal of him. Melvin’s granddaughter saw the show in Lansing and she said she was moved to tears of how well I portrayed him.
So what should Detroiters look out for in Ain’t Too Proud?
Look out for a great representation of The Temps. I think of all people, Detroiters know what they represented and brought to the stage and they’re going to get that and more. It won the Tony for Best Choreography, so the moves are just incredible. You’ll see the great costumes that made them famous. And, of course, the hits. “Papa was a Rolling Stone,” “Just My Imagination,” “My Girl,” “Get Ready.” All those hits that have last 60-plus years. You’ll hear them and really take that ride down memory lane, so you’ll be rocking and dancing from the top to bottom.
But probably not as hard as you’ll be dancing on stage.
Probably not as hard, but you know what: we feed off all of that energy. We would just love to hear you and feel that energy because we’re gonna give it right back.
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations begins performances at the Detroit Opera House from August 9th through the 28th. For schedule and tickets, visit BroadwayinDetroit.com.