Currently, Cameron Bernard Jones is performing at the Prince Edward Theatre in London, playing Melvin Franklin in Ain’t Too Proud for his first lead role in the West End, alongside Kyle Cox, Sifiso Mazibuko, Tosh Wanogho-Maud and Mitchell Zhangazha. The musical follows the journey of The Temptations, with the West End premiere production booking until Sunday 17th September, and Cameron previously played Melvin when he was an Ensemble member for his West End debut in Motown the Musical in 2017. Amongst Cameron’s previous roles, he has been in the cast of Porgy & Bess in 2014 and Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City last year. Cameron answered our questions about playing Melvin Franklin in Ain’t Too Proud, performing in the London premiere of the musical and making his West End debut in Motown the Musical.
You are currently performing as Melvin Franklin in Ain’t Too Proud at the Prince Edward Theatre, how is the run going?
It has been such a blast doing the show so far! We have been so busy; from rehearsals to promo, and of course actually doing the show, which, though physically challenging, is so fun and rewarding to perform eight times a week.
How is it taking on the role of Melvin Franklin and performing The Temptations’ music?
I was in Motown the Musical in the West End between 2017 and 2019, in which I was in the Ensemble. My role as an ensemble member included playing Melvin Franklin (amongst other characters) so this is a full circle moment for me; instead now I get to play him fully and as my first lead role in the West End. I had learned so much Motown history already, so it was great to add more layers to my knowledge and to dive deeper into the Temptations’ and Melvin’s histories. It’s so rare that a musical theatre piece is written for and highlights bass voices, so as a natural bass-baritone, it is such an honour to portray the icon that is Melvin Franklin and show off my own voice.
I love those guys so much! We have really formed a brotherhood. After eight weeks of rehearsal period — including a Temptations “bootcamp” – we really have learned each other’s ways of acting and performing. We all have our own unique personalities and we really all complement each other. It’s actually quite remarkable how there are some similarities between our own personalities and the personalities of the individual Temptations men we play. It’s truly serendipitous.
What was it like preparing to open in the West End premiere of Ain’t Too Proud?
Preparations started in the audition period for me. To approach a piece like this, one must remember that these were/are living human beings. You have to know the history before anything else. Context is everything! So before approaching songs and scenes and before attending choreography calls, I was refreshing my knowledge on the period; watching videos, reading pieces of literature and, of course, listening to their original music.
Once I was cast, the work of course continued, but up several levels. Our rehearsal period was long and so comprehensive. Details, details, details. As soon as we learned the full content of the show, it was all about stamina. If you haven’t seen the show, just know it’s a full workout!
What do you enjoy most about performing in the musical?
I really love being the only bass in the show! Again, it’s so rare to have that in contemporary musicals so I love getting to “live” down there vocally and of course experiencing the initial reactions of audience members – from laughs to mouths agape in wonder and disbelief that I could speak and sing so low.
I also love my arc as Melvin. I get loads of funny moments and as the story progresses my character blossoms, showcasing many more sides to Melvin, apart from the comedy. On top of that – the choreography! I’m in 98% of the choreographic numbers so I have the privilege of a full Sergio Trujillo choreographic experience – from slow step-touch numbers to full-out high octane numbers.
Why would you recommend booking tickets to see Ain’t Too Proud and who do you think it will appeal to?
This music is global and timeless so I recommend that everyone of every demographic come see and experience it. Our story has loads of heart and soul and those things transcend physical borders, language barriers and time. Simply put, it’s a great time – two-and-a-half hours of a great time! Plus you’ll leave learning something about The Temptations that you might not have ever known.
Can you tell us about some of your favourite highlights of your theatre career so far?
When I was in Porgy & Bess at The Royal Danish Opera in 2014, I had the best time on and off stage. Copenhagen is such a beautiful city and working at the world-class opera house there was the best. It is actually what I like to call my big break as it was my first big job on a big stage and it is what brought me over to Europe in the first place. The connections I made helped me flourish as an artist in Europe and led me to further work in other European countries.
My West End debut in Motown the Musical in 2017 was another huge highlight. I had dreamed of performing in the West End the minute I stepped foot in Europe as a professional performer, so to work my way to performing at the Shaftesbury Theatre in that musical is nothing short of amazing. I remember auditioning for it like it was yesterday. The family bonds that I made while in that show for two years remain and the memories are so rich.
I always believe in being a versatile performer so when I was cast in Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City in 2022, I knew I was taking a step in the right direction. It was my first go at physical theatre and immersive theatre and I always say that it brought out parts of me as an artist that I never knew I possessed. It truly was a career-changing experience. It was my first time that I got to create characters from scratch and to also have a say in how a storyline goes and what an audience’s experience could be. The lessons I learned are priceless and I am forever grateful to be a part of the Punchdrunk family.
How did you get into acting and was it something you always wanted to do?
I come from a musical family so you can say it’s in my blood. I was exposed to all sorts of performing arts from birth, including opera (which I studied in uni) and musical theatre. My first musical was Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway, followed by Disney’s The Lion King (also on Broadway) at the age of ten. I started acting in school at the age 12 when I performed in Death of a Salesman in my high school’s Drama Guild. By then I had already been performing in choirs and vocal ensembles both in church and school so I guess theatre was the next step for me! The more I performed, the more it became a passion. Having the support of my family to follow my performing dreams and to study it in higher learning made the world of a difference.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch?
I think I will always love the spectacle that is The Lion King musical. The same parts always make me cry and it gives me the nostalgia of seeing it as a kid. If I could watch The Inheritance over and over again, I definitely would! That is one of the finest pieces of theatre I have experienced. Hairspray is just always something that I love going back to seeing. Great music, great story – fun, fun, fun!
Is there anything you are looking forward to most for continuing your run as Melvin Franklin in Ain’t Too Proud?
I simply look forward to exploring the layers of Melvin Franklin, making more memories with the Ain’t Too Proud family, and continuing to tell the story of The Temptations to our audiences!
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