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‘I Think We’re Cousins?’: ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ Performers Realize Link

As comments flew back and forth about the specifics of their genealogy, Manuel was onstage crooning into the microphone as Ruffin, the original lead voice of “My Girl.” Griffin was not far away, playing his viola beneath the stage. When Manuel returned to his dressing room, he saw a text from his mother: He had a cousin in the band and he should go meet him.

“I’m like, ‘What does he look like?’” Manuel said. “And she’s just like, ‘His name is Drew and he plays the viola.’”

Outside the stage door, Manuel signed autographs for a throng of giddy Broadway fans, glancing back every so often to look for the viola player. When Griffin walked out, the two introduced themselves tentatively. “I think we’re cousins,” Griffin said. Two fans holding a poster stared at them blankly, Manuel recalled.

The pair did the natural thing to do when you discover a family member: schedule a lunch date. They made plans for the following week, but soon, the airborne virus that had been spreading across the world had producers worrying. Then, on March 12, less than two weeks after Manuel’s debut, the industry shut down.

“Maybe we should postpone,” Griffin remembered saying.

During the lockdown, Griffin fled to North Carolina to hunker down with his girlfriend and her family; Manuel went back to Detroit, thinking the pause in the production would be a good opportunity to drive back the rest of his stuff in a U-Haul.

The shutdown stretched on and on, keeping performers like Griffin and Manuel out of a regular job and perpetually wondering when they would get a return date. Griffin spent time composing, something he didn’t always have time to do with a full performance schedule. Manuel grieved the loss of a relative, spent time with family and tried to reconnect with the part of himself that wasn’t a performer, always eager to entertain those around him.

The cousins fell out of touch, their discovery outside of the stage door seeming like another era, where fans mingled freely with actors after exiting a tightly packed theater.

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