Tituss Burgess on Training Young Broadway Hopefuls at the Kimmel Center

Tituss Burgess

On Monday, a handful of Broadway and television professionals came to Philly to kick off a weeklong musical theater intensive at the Kimmel Center. They’re here as part of the Broadway Dreams Foundation (BDF), which offers top-notch training to young musical theater hopefuls. At the end of the week, the youth will join their teachers and each other in “Generation,” a Broadway-style revue in which they’ll show off all the things they’ve learned throughout the week.

Among those who are in town for BDF is hilarious stage and television star Tituss Burgess, who has brought tears of laughter to our eyes as grumpy Sebastian the Crab in Broadway’s The Little Mermaid, and, perhaps most famously, as “Peeno Noir“-penner Titus Andromedon in Tina Fey’s hit Netflix comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I nabbed 15 minutes of phone time with him this afternoon to chat about what he’s up to at the Kimmel, what’s next for his flamboyant character on Kimmy Schmidt and of course what it’s like working with Upper Darby’s own Tina Fey.

Why did you get involved with Broadway Dreams Foundation?
I love teaching. That’s what I was originally going to do when I graduated college. … But there’s lots of information that young people who are about to venture into the stage world need to know outside of performing. A lot of the day-to-day information on how to live is important to know about—that’s just as much a real part of the dream as the dream itself. It’s very close to my heart. If I had direction like this when I was young, there’d be a lot of unanswered questions that I wouldn’t have had to find out the hard way.

What kinds of things are you talking about?
How to live. How to organize your money. What it means when you’re going to be taxed at a different bracket. What it’s like to work at anywhere from 10 to 15 different theater companies in one year and how to make sure you keep track of it. … Things like that that go in to being an adult that no one told you.

You’ll be teaching performance too, right?
Of course. I will be directing a segment that is about 15 minutes long that is part of the final showcase on Saturday. I’ve written 60 percent original material for that and it’s supplemented by existing material. The theme is marriage equality and the denial of marriage licenses.

What made you want to do a show about marriage equality?
The fight’s still not over. People are committing illegal acts and they can do it and hide behind the local and state governments, because it’s a federal issue. It would take days and months to even have it circle back around. It’s maddening. There are fugitives out there in these offices who are not doing their jobs and there’s such a relaxed tonality about it. It’s a wide-spread issue. I don’t want people to think that just because there was a judgment from the Supreme Court that it’s being enforced on a local and state level—because it’s not.

Will you be performing in the showcase?
I don’t know yet.

How has your life changed since Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?
I’m famous. [Laughs] I’ve never been famous before. I got stopped all the time for theater, but this is a whole different thing. I still keep living as though I am the me before Kimmy Schmidt. I am often surprised when people come up to me. I keep thinking they’re coming up to ask for directions, so I have not quite recalibrated and it always surprises me. It’s a good life, and fans have been so lovely. That’s been the largest change.

What’s the main thing people ask you when they come up to you on the street?
If they can take a picture, or if I’ll sing “Peeno Noir.”

Do you sing it?
No, I don’t sing it. They’ve heard me sing it. But there was one time when a lady’s phone died right when she was about to take a picture, so I sang it for her. She just sort of sat there and got teary eyed.

What’s something that surprised you about working with Tina Fey?
I don’t know if anything surprised me, but I was delighted to know that she is equally invested in the minute details as she is in the things the rest of the world see her do. She is a hard, hard worker. That’s very, very inspiring to be around.

And she knows Beyoncé songs, word for word.
She knows, man. I don’t know how she does. I asked her, “How do you find time to memorize all this,’ and she said, “I listen on the way to the gym and on the way to work.’ My God, she doesn’t stop.

Can you give us any hints about the next season of Kimmy Schmidt?
I know that we’re going to find out about Titus’s backstory and we are going to find out about this marriage he keeps trying to hide. I know that Titus is going to have a one-man show of sorts. I can’t tell you what it’s going to be about, but it’s going to be equally as funny as all the things you saw in the first season.

What else is next for you? Movies perhaps?
I have a couple movies coming out, but I don’t know that it’s been announced yet. The answer is yes, and you will be finding out very soon.

Catch Philly’s Broadway Dream Foundation youth in two performances of “Generation,” happening this Saturday, August 8th, at 3 and 8 pm. More information and tickets here

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