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Broadway Q&A: Ephraim Sykes of ‘Ain't Too Proud’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

Sykes on playing David Ruffin: “I love how ugly I get to be.”

Ephraim Sykes stars as troubled Temptations member David Ruffin in Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. He was nominated for a Tony award for his passionate performance. Ruffin was the voice heard in solos on "My Girl," "Ain’t Too Proud to Beg" and "I Wish It Would Rain." Making his Broadway debut in The Little Mermaid, Sykes was in the original casts of Hamilton, Memphis, Newsies and Motown: The Musical. His other film and credits include Vinyl, Crisis in Six Scenes, Smash, 30 Rock and the Marvel series Luke Cage. Ain’t Too Proud recounts the heartbreaking and triumphant story of one of pop music’s greatest vocal groups. Hitmakers over and over, The Temptations had 43 top ten hits, won three Grammys, sold 16 million selling records and were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Ephraim Sykes plays David Ruffin in ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Ephraim Sykes plays David Ruffin in ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

The Ain’t Too Proud audiences go crazy with excitement for the show and your performances. What is that like for you?
Ephraim Sykes: People in the audience give us so much love. I’m literally feeding off it every night. They show up at the stage door beaming and smiling, with tears in their eyes. I’m thankful for the audience every day. The reason I do this is for them.

Can you talk about being cast in Ain’t Too Proud?
ES: It was actually a difficult thing at first. I had just finished doing Hairspray Live!, and it turned out really well. My agents were in Hollywood. And they said, “This is your time to be in LA. Hollywood is buzzing about you right now.” I had a million meetings with all the different networks. They said, “We want you to be here for pilot season. Are you ready to move to LA?” And I said, “Okay.” My whole team was behind it. I got to LA and the first audition I had was for Ain’t Too Proud.

 I remember telling them, “I love this so much. But can I do it later? I'm supposed to be in LA right now.”  But Sergio (Ain’t Too Proud’s Tony-winning choreographer, Sergio Trujillo) said to me, “Ephraim, you really need to take a look at this. This is going to be your moment.” I read the script and knew I had to do it. I connected to it.

What do you do love about playing David Ruffin?
ES: I love how ugly I get to be. I love that I get to expose true, true pain and torture. That trauma ties into being a black man in this country, especially back in that day. Also, for somebody like that, fame and success sometimes exacerbates the worst parts of yourself.  I like being able to give some understanding to somebody who is idolized and misunderstood.

Do you remember one of your earliest dancing memories?  
ES: I remember my first time really dancing. Nobody knew I could dance. We had a sock hop in my fifth grade. And we had a twist contest. There was a little girl who I wanted to impress. I didn't know what the twist was. But I decided to enter this contest and do my best dance move. In the middle of it, I remembered how James Brown did a split. So I turned around and did a split and came back up. I ended up winning the contest. She became the girlfriend, and I kept dancing after that.

What was the first Broadway show you saw? 
ES: The first show I saw was Thoroughly Modern Millie. I was on a ballet school trip. I had no interest in Broadway at all, actually, until I made my Broadway debut in The Little Mermaid. And then after being on Broadway, I thought, “Oh, I do like this. I do connect to this.” But at first I thought, “Man, I want to play sports.”

Is it hard to describe how performing makes you feel?
I remember my first time actually performing on stage. When I was a boy, I was in the Nutcracker in St. Petersburg, Florida with our local ballet company. I never wanted to dance. I actually hated the thought of it. But I got on stage, and I immediately felt at home. I didn't hesitate. I wasn't nervous. It felt like where I belonged. I will never forget that first sensation of being on stage.

For more of the best of Broadway this season, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in October 2019

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