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Photograph: Luke Fontana

Tituss Burgess tells us about the theater he loves right now and if he'll ever return to Broadway

Adam Goldman

If you don’t know Tituss Burgess from his otherworldly singing voice (he originated the role of Sebastian in The Little Mermaid on Broadway), you probably know him as Titus Andromedon on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Ahead of Darren Criss’s musical-theater passion project, the Elsie Fest, at which Burgess will sing alongside stars like Megan Hilty and Lena Hall, we talked to him about Kimmy Schmidt’s musicality and whether he wants to return to the Great White Way.

You’re from Georgia and you live in Harlem. Why New York?
These are my people. When I got off the plane, I had never felt a sense of home the way I felt when I landed. I know exactly where I stand with this city; I know where I stand with my fellow New Yorkers. I welcome the strange aromas, and I love Central Park. And Broadway is here. 

How did you get involved with Elsie Fest?
Darren [Criss] asked me. I’m super excited. And I’ve never been to Coney Island!

What was the first musical you loved?
The first time I understood what I was watching was Sunday in the Park with George. They aired it on PBS. It’s a relatively sophisticated piece of musical theater, but I remember thinking it was just amazing. And then I knew that I had to get up there when I first saw Lena Horne sing “Believe in Yourself” in The Wiz. That was like, “Okay. I get it now, and she looks like me. Let’s go.”

What shows do you really love right now?
I just went and saw Macbeth at the Classical Theatre of Harlem. It was outside, with such a mixed group of people supporting art. It was lovely. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was just...overwhelming. I just wept and wept.

Tonally, Kimmy Schmidt feels like a musical—like anyone on the show could burst into song at any moment. And sometimes they do!
Most of my friends do, walking down Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen! That feels totally real. I certainly borrow from my own experience where that’s concerned. It’s so fun to live inside someone who’s just pure, unadulterated “I don’t care how you think about me.” He’s just going to exist. It’s really freeing. I’ve learned a great deal from Tituss.

Is there a part out there that makes you think, I have to lock that down?
I definitely want to come back to Broadway. I want to come back in Kiss of the Spider Woman as Molina. I don’t know how that’s going to work out, but I think it would be so much fun. 

Elsie Fest is on Mon 5 at 1pm at the Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk. $60–$255.


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