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Emmy-Nominated Tituss Burgess On Theater, Film And “The Preacher’s Wife”

By: Marjorie Galas

Netflix hosted a special Emmy FYC event honoring “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” nominee Tituss Burgess on Saturday, August 12th, 2017 at Hollywood’s Sayer’s Club Celebrating. Humbled and honored by his third consecutive nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy, Burgess engaged in a one-on-one discussion with actress Yvette Nicole Brown in a room altered specifically for the event.  Massive fushia drapes adorned the walls, and standing attendees jealously glanced at those lucky to grab seats in the dark leather couches covered with faux-fur throws.

Early in the discussion, Burgess revealed music was always part of his life.  His musician father claimed the infant Burgess cried in perfect pitch – a talent that easily enabled Burgess to conduct his church choir as a teen.  Faced with the decision to focus on film or theater early in his career, Burgess said he “followed his soul” and dove into musical theater.   Living in a tiny apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, he happily devoted his energy to such Broadway hits as “Good Vibrations”, “Jersey Boys” and “Guys and Dolls.”  Late into his twenties, he began to reflect on his career path and felt a tug to venture into television.

Burgess recalled how green and unprepared he was after landing his first role on “Thirty Rock.”   For instance, he thought he had miserably failed his delivery after hearing the director yell “Cut!” – he wasn’t aware that was how film was shot.  He also had only prepared the lines he did during his audition and was stunned to learn there were pages of dialogue required for his scene.

“I didn’t know what sides meant,” laughed Burgess.

Roughly six years later, Burgess found himself responsible for paying comedic homage to singer Beyonce’s award-winning “Lemonade” album in the episode that was submitted for his 2017 Emmy nod.  Noting the song – itself nominated for an Emmy – was added for comedic affect, it was important to Burgess to bring an air of realism and respect to his delivery.  He studied the singer’s cadence and movements, and emphasized the emotional reasoning for the song’s appearance in the episode: his character’s discovery of his boyfriend with another man.

Before serenading the audience with two songs he simultaneously sang and played on the piano, Burgess revealed he’d received the approval to produce his musical theater adaptation of the film “The Preacher’s Wife.” He described being incredibly moved by the film when he first saw it and began writing his own version – including songs – well before securing the rights.

“I recommend you get the rights first,” said Burgess, reflecting on the challenge of clearances.

He sang one of the songs he’d composed for the show, “All I Need” – a piece performed during an emotional climax in his now theater bound “The Preacher’s Wife.”  He concluded the event by performing “One for my Baby (One More for the Road.)”

Hear his rendition by clicking this link: