Rhythm-and-blues artists such as the Temptations and Sam Cooke served as the inspiration for filmmaker Robert Townsend's ambitious movie about five urban friends who climb the stairway to stardom. On their journey to the zenith of the 1960s music scene, the group overcomes rigged talent contests, double-dealing record company bigwigs, racial barriers, substance abuse, isolation and internecine squabbles -- only to find emptiness at the top.

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