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Tituss Burgess: Take Me to the World

Few artists can boast the variety of credits Tituss Burgess has amassed since his Broadway debut in 2005. Not only has he been Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls, but he also became the first man to play the traditionally female role of the Witch in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods—a casting decision sanctioned by the composer himself. Burgess also brought Sebastian, everyone’s favorite under-the-sea crustacean, to life in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Beyond the stage, he has been seen on 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, in addition to several film roles.

Before his upcoming Carnegie Hall debut, Burgess discussed everything from his famed character of Titus Andromedon to his adopted religion: Sondheim.

For you, how does this debut at Carnegie Hall differ from your Broadway debut in Good Vibrations?

I was around 25 years old when I made my Broadway debut. There was so much I didn’t know and so much I needed to learn about Broadway and the community. In some ways,I felt like every time I originateda role on Broadway, it was a step towards sharpening my tools to get to Carnegie Hall. Unlike a Broadway show where you are doing a role, here I get to curate an evening of music and an experience that is tailored to me personally.

For audiences who know you best from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, what is the biggest difference between Tituss Burgess and Titus Andromedon?

I get this question a lot. There are many differences. In a way, sharing a name with a character that I played on television was like golden handcuffs. It was the greatest experience I’ve had to date, creatively; but the challenge post-Kimmy is separating the character people have come to know from who I really am. Some people just assume that, like my character, I walk around entitled, sharp-tongued, and quick witted; but the truth is I am much more introverted.

You have broken down many barriers throughout your career. Did you intentionally set out to challenge perceived norms through your art? Or did it happen organically?

I try to do everything with purpose, on purpose. I think every artist wishes to push boundaries and challenge stereotypes and societal norms—art would be pretty boring if we didn’t. That said, I’ve been fortunate to have played varied roles throughout my career. Representation absolutely matters, and I am always mindful of that whenever I am choosing my next project.

For many, your name isn’t overtly synonymous with Sondheim’s. Can you shed light on why you chose to dedicate your concert to his music? What impact has he had on your life?

To say that my name isn’t synonymous with Sondheim is almost like saying my name isn’t synonymous with Christianity, or Islam, or Buddhism. Millions of people practice these philosophies and embody these teachings—and Sondheim is a religion. I don’t claim to have some profound knowledge on interpreting his catalog, but I do have an expert awareness on how deeply I’ve been affected by his vast array of compositions. I simply want to thank him for what he’s given me and so many other people.

What would your dream role be—or rather, what else would you like to do in your career?

Today—right now—my dream role is playing Tituss Burgess at Carnegie Hall on February 1.