Broadway may be returning to Schenectady audiences next week but it’s been at Proctors for the last few weeks as the Tony Award-winning musical “Ain’t Too Proud” has held technical rehearsals for its first touring production.
For actor and musician Elijah Ahmad Lewis, who plays David Ruffin, working at the Schenectady theater isn’t new territory.
“This is my fourth time being at Proctors,” Lewis said. “We were here twice with ‘Motown,’ I’ve also teched another show here . . . it’s always a crazy feeling to return back to a town but I always had a great time here.”
Lewis grew up surrounded by music (his father worked as a producer and they had a home studio). He started singing and performing at a young age and his acting credits include the popular off-Broadway production “Mama, I Want to Sing,” as well as Broadway’s “Motown The Musical” and “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,” for which he was a principal standby for David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Otis Williams. He was with the show when Broadway shut down last year.
“It was pretty tough. It was like having the wind knocked out of you,” Lewis said. “One night you’re doing a show, you go home and the next day you get a message from your stage manager saying ‘hey, we’re holding off on shows. We’ll be in touch with you but for now, we’re not working.’ To have that message come through . . . It was almost like having a loss. It’s your livelihood. We do eight shows a week. You see most of your cast sometimes more than your actual family.”
At the same time, the shutdown put the spotlight on just how much Broadway was missed.
“That was the first-ever huge Broadway shut down. You were able to see how much of an impact Broadway brings New York because all of downtown was dead. It was like tumbleweed,” Lewis said.
After months of being on pause, he finally got word earlier this year that productions would start again and he picked up where he left off, only this time he landed his first union principal role, playing David Ruffin in the touring production of “Ain’t Too Proud.”
“The interesting thing was, normally, while Broadway shows are on Broadway the tour goes out. But this was the first time ever that Broadway shows were coming back and tours were going on at the same time. A lot of shows were getting ready double-time.”Lewis said.
“Ain’t Too Proud” opened again on Broadway on October 16. The touring production began rehearsals not too long after in New York City. The actors started rehearsing in Schenectady last week, though crew members arrived earlier, working to set the stage, lights, etc. They’re slated to continue rehearsals at Proctors throughout the week.
“This show is amazing,” Lewis said. “It tells the stories of these five Black men who loved music and had a passion for music and who came through a time where it wasn’t easy to be recognized in what you did. For The Temptations to do what they did and become the number one group of rhythm and blues is quite amazing.”
It’s packed with classic hits like “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” and, of course, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”
However, Lewis points out that it’s not necessarily a jukebox musical.
“Dominique Morisseau so eloquently and poetically has written this book and I say that [with] this show, you’re getting a mixture of a concert with a movie and a stage play at the same time. The way they’ve staged this is so cinematic that we’re doing a lot of unconventional things that are not normally done on Broadway. We have so many lights and set changes . . . I want people to take away that this is an actual story being told. It’s more than just the music,” Lewis said.
While at Proctors, they’ve made a few changes from the original production.
“There are a few edits. We have to make sure that we get this amazing set in every theater that we can so there’s a little manipulation but we stayed true to the design that our design team has graciously put together from lighting to sound to set, even to our projections,” Lewis said.
The “Ain’t Too Proud” tour begins in Durham, North Carolina on Dec. 7. A Capital Region date has not yet been announced, however, it’s scheduled to be in Boston from April 19-May 1 and in Buffalo from May 10-15.
“I think that’s one thing that I love about touring is to be able to reach so many more people at one time. Unfortunately, everyone can’t get to Broadway. We would love it but just to be able to get it out there just so people can see it, is really good. Theater is like medicine, music is medicine [it’s] so something that we all need,” Lewis said.
Before “Ain’t Too Proud” arrived, “Hadestown” held technical rehearsals at Proctors in September. It’s slated to perform at the theater in 2023. Here’s a look at the other productions heading to Proctors in the coming months: “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” from Dec. 7-12, “Come from Away,” Jan. 25-30, “Rent: 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour,” Feb. 11-12, “Waitress,” Feb. 25-27, “The Prom,” Mar. 1-6, “Dear Evan Hansen,” Mar. 22-27, “Cats,” May 3-8, “My Fair Lady,” May 17-22, “Harper Lee’s Too Kill a Mockingbird,” Jun. 14-19, “Mean Girls,” Jun. 28-July 3. For more information visit proctors.org.