Every Little Thing Ephraim Sykes Does to Pull Off Ain't Too Proud's Electric Vocals and Dance Moves
Ephraim Sykes has repeatedly proven that he's a standout dancer in Broadway shows like Hamilton, Motown and Newsies. But, boy, can he also sing.
As David Ruffin in Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, he does both with such vigor that we had to know how he pulls off this famous Temptations frontman. "It requires everything," says Sykes, who was nominated today for outstanding male dancer in a Broadway show by the Chita Rivera Awards.
Sykes broke down his routine from pre- to post-show—and how he wound up learning what he calls "the key to life" along the way.
During the Day:
"I try to stay as still and quiet as possible to truly conserve my energy. I take a lot of voice lessons in the day and do things for my body, like acupuncture and massage therapy once a week."
Two Hours Before Curtain:
"I eat really healthy, substantial meals to make sure that I have enough fuel to get through the show: something like steak and potatoes and vegetables, or chicken and vegetables and rice. I have a very fast metabolism, so I eat things like red meat and heavy proteins like chicken that can stick to my body. If I eat too light, something like fish, I'll feel depleted by the time I get to the second act."
Once He Gets to the Theater:
"I get a good vocal warm-up in, as well as a body warm-up. I just do enough to get my body loose and warm."
"I focus on being smart about gauging my energy and how I can use the show itself, especially the first act, to continue to warm up and ramp up into the big, high climatic moment."
Sykes (front) and the cast dancing Sergio Trujillo's energetic choreography for Ain't Too ProudMatthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M
"A physical therapist comes to my dressing room and does therapy on my throat all the way down to my diaphragm. Literally every show, just because my first act is so strenuous. It's the almost-screaming and dancing and harsh singing that make my diaphragm and throat almost want to clench up. They literally peel me apart—my throat, my jaw, even my diaphragm—to help me breath again. I'm finding out that if my breathing is clutch, the better I'm able to breath, the easier I can get through this monstrous show."
"I have a lot of protein snacks, like almonds and trail mixes, and fruit like bananas. Of course I have coconut water and a big canteen of Throat Coat tea with me."
The Sneaky Thing He Does During the Show:
"Any time I get a break and I'm facing upstage, I'm stretching my tongue out of my mouth really far and doing things to relieve tongue tension."
Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M
Whenever He Has a Moment Offstage:
"I've learned throughout this show that the key to life [laughs], as cliché as it sounds, is breath. When I'm doing something this hard, anytime I'm offstage I'm taking big, deep breaths in different positions that my voice teachers taught me that help reboot my adrenal glands. I'm hanging over, grabbing my feet or touching my toes and taking full breaths to get the air into my back, deep down into my lower abdominal spaces and releasing my neck tension.
"I was primarily a dancer before this show, and dancers are taught to breathe very high up and shallow and singers need the air to be down low and deep. I have to bridge the gap: How do I keep my core tight so I can do all my spins and splits but be able to sustain my notes and have the power behind my voice?"
Immediately After Curtain Call:
"I have a 10-minute cool-down process: a vocal warm-down and a breathing cool-down so I don't sound like James Brown when I'm talking. And my muscles respond to what my mind and breath are doing. If I leave the stage and go straight to talking to friends or family, my voice and body don't recuperate the way that they should because they're still at a heightened place. The cool-down is just as essential to my show as my warm-up."
Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M
"I'll eat a smaller portion of the same sort of protein, starch and vegetables that I had pre-show, and hydration is key—coconut water is my best friend.
"I've been taking a hot Epsom salt bath pretty much every night to relax my muscles. A lot of times, I'm sitting in my bathtub, stuffing my face and watching 'Game of Thrones.' "
On His Day Off:
"My days off are full of nothing if I can manage it. I have a standing acupuncture appointment to recuperate, and a fat dog that I take to the park so we can both have peace of mind. From there, I'm just chilling out. I watch TV and let my mind go blank for a little bit, so I can be prepared for the next week."
More than once, when I'm sporting my faded, well-loved ballet hoodie, some slight variation of this conversation ensues:
"Is your daughter the dancer?"
"Actually," I say, "I am."
"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"
"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."
Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.
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