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BWW Interview: E. Clayton Cornelious on How Destiny Lead Him to AIN'T TOO PROUD

BWW Interview: E. Clayton Cornelious on How Destiny Lead Him to AIN'T TOO PROUD

As the Toronto run of AIN'T TOO PROUD enters the last few weeks of its run, so too does the pre-Broadway tour of the ground-breaking new show based on the formation, life, and legacy of The Temptations. For E. Clayton Cornelious, who's been involved since initial readings, it's been a life and career-changing opportunity. He's earned his first regional nomination in the 2018 TBA Awards for Outstanding Performance In A Featured Role In A Musical, and is preparing for a range of shows and charity work in both New York and his hometown Pittsburgh before opening the show on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre in early 2019.

After a tumultuous few years in his personal and professional life, Cornelious was nearly ready to pull the plug on his 20-year career spanning Broadway, the West End, and numerous North American tours, but something about AIN'T TOO PROUD caught his attention - and kept it. "I was going through a really hard time with my dad's death in 2015, and in 2016 I was doing Beautiful: The Carole King Musical before going on tour with Kinky Boots. While I was travelling, I didn't have the greatest experience, and I thought, could this be it for me? Maybe I should leave the business, if I'm just not enjoying myself anymore."

It wasn't until he got back to New York and stepped into the audition room that things began to shift for Cornelious. He was also dealing with his father's estate at the time, which in turn helped him understand what to do moving forward. "Funnily enough, my dad only saw me perform twice in my life. Once when I was a supporting role for Wonderland (as the Caterpillar), which was a huge thing for me because it was my first big role in New York, and then in The Lion King (as Simba). He never really got to see me do anything else, and what drew me to this was that I knew it was a Temptations musical and that was his favourite group."

"On top of that, my dad always said that I should do comedy - so it's very funny that I'm doing that in this legendary musical, about The Temptations, which he would've loved, so, I'm really getting the best of all worlds being with this show."

Cornelious also has the opportunity to bring a number of characters to life each night, with seven roles in the first act, and as Richard Street in the second. "Richard Street has been great to look upon, and it's funny enough that we look alike, we have the same sort of voice type, and I guess I contribute that to Des (McAnuff, Director) and Sergio (Trujillo, Choreographer) for seeing me in the audition and going, 'I'm sure he could play Richard Street.'"

Although he's been with the show for since its origins, his start wasn't as conventional as some of his cast mates - he had initially auditioned for other roles in AIN'T TOO PROUD, but a phone call from his agent altered his course. "When my agent called me, she said 'We have good news and bad news - the bad news is you didn't get the role you were looking to book, but they love you so much they want to write you into the show.'" Cornelious attended the first reading, where he created a number of characters on the spot. "That's sort of my wheelhouse anyway so I just went for it and created seven different crazy characters, and it stuck."

Not only is Cornelious excited about having a multitude of characters to play, but writer Dominique Morisseau has reached out to him about his personifications. "She [Morisseau] would always tell me, 'You bring these characters that only have one line, or two lines, or not really anything at all, come to life.' One of her favourite characters of mine is someone who doesn't even speak! I play a tailor that comes in twice and I put jackets on The Temptations, but I guess I do it in such a way that it sort of grabs attention. She sort of always applauds me for my efforts in helping these small characters - who she never thought would hop off the page - stand out."

Because of his long career in musical theatre, Cornelious has developed a strong sense of show potential. "I've been in the business 20 years and I've seen the best of things and the worst of things, so you just get a sense where you know when something is fantastic, and all the theatre gods come together in one perfect storm." It wasn't smooth sailing from the beginning, though - initial readings were "nerve-wracking," but the moment where everything clicked removed any doubt he had instantly.

"It really wasn't until the whole cast got together, when we were going into the Berkley Rep rehearsals. We were doing the workshop, and when we started to put everything together and were doing all the research - just in seeing the talent that was next to me, I was blown away. I think everybody in this show was made for the character that they play - it's almost like it was destined that everyone was playing what part that they are, because I don't even think that some people are acting - it's just who they are. After seeing and hearing a run of the workshop I knew, and said, 'Oh my god, this is going to be legendary.'"

AIN'T TOO PROUD is playing at The Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto, ON. For more information, or to purchase tickets visit

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