Ryan M. Hunt’s singing pedigree stretches back to his Indiana roots. But in the latest role that has brought the actor back to his home state, he doesn’t sing – at least not while you can see him.
“If the producers are listening to this, I think it’d be hysterical to have [his character] Shelly Berger just break out in a moment of R&B soul,” Hunt said in a conversation over Zoom.
Hunt only sings with the ensemble behind the scenes in this particular show, because the singers on stage are portraying Motown’s biggest group. Hunt is in the cast of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations.” The musical that was nominated for 12 Tony awards on Broadway is the season finale for Broadway in Indianapolis this week.
Hunt started his stage career in his hometown of Evansville. He said theater is literally in his blood, but he wasn’t entirely hooked at first.
“My parents met doing a show, so I wouldn’t be here without theater,” Hunt said. “I fought it. I wanted to play sports. At age 12, I did my first professional show. I was still kind of like ‘I’m loving this, but I still want to play soccer.’ Then at 15-years-old, I did a production of ‘West Side Story,’ and I looked at my mother and said, ‘This is it! I’m not going to do anything else.'”
Hunt would get a theater arts degree from the University of Evansville, and then it was off to the bright lights of the stage in New York and across the country.
Like every actor, Hunt has had small roles and big roles: from performing in the ensembles of shows largely in the background, to starring as Hall-of-Fame singer Art Garfunkel in a touring production of “The Simon and Garfunkel Story.”
His role in the Temptations’ story is a supporting role, but it’s also a pivotal role, just as his character was for the rock 'n' roll Hall of Famers in real life. Hunt portrays Shelly Berger, the group’s legendary manager who helped take their careers to new heights, and who also guided them through dissension and change.
Here’ one spoiler from the show: The very first line said to Hunt’s character by one of the Temptations is “you’re White.” The initial mistrust between the Black singers at predominantly Black Motown Records is evident, even though Berger was hired by Motown chief Berry Gordy.
“Shelly Berger is the White man in their universe, and I am the only White man in this production,” Hunt said of how he channeled what Berger must have been thinking at the time. “It’s difficult, but I always attack work that I do the way I think Shelly did, which is … we’re all here for a common goal. So no matter what I look like, no matter what you look like, no matter what our background is, what is it that we’re trying to do right now? Are we trying to tell this story with ‘Ain’t Too Proud?’ Does it matter that I’m White? Am I merely just a cog in this story to tell such a wonderful, unapologetically Black story? I’m happy to play that part, and I know Shelly was happy to play that part.”
If Hunt’s friends and family are driving in to see him perform, there is a special treat if you stay until the very end of the show. But Hunt didn't want to say anything else about that.
“Let’s really not give that away," Hunt said. "That’s all anyone ever wants to talk about. It doesn’t matter what I had done in the previous two-and-a-half hours of the show. All anyone wants to talk about is that last 30 seconds.”
Ryan M. Hunt from Evansville is appearing in “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” at Clowes Memorial Hall through Sunday, June 11. Information is available at BroadwayInIndianapolis.com.