Tituss Burgess tells EW's Untold Stories: Pride Edition how Stephen Sondheim helped him come out
Fans of the Emmy-nominated Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt alum are likely familiar with his love for the musical theater icon: He memorably portrayed The Witch in a gender-flipped Miami production of Into the Woods; he launched his own Carnegie Hall show earlier this year, pre-coronavirus closures, in which he reflected on his own life story through the lens of Sondheim.
Burgess joined us for the first episode of EW's Untold Stories: Pride Edition podcast, which launched Monday and also features Matt Bomer reflecting on the legacy of the late Larry Kramer (The Normal Heart). The episode specifically examines LGBTQ stories in the world of theater. Subsequent installments, in celebration of Pride Month, will focus on film, TV, books, and more. The series is hosted by entertainment journalist and social curator Tre'vell Anderson. You can listen to the premiere at the bottom of this post.
"It went through me like a lightning bolt and it felt electric," Burgess recalls of his first time hearing a Sondheim song. "I felt alive and I felt connected in a way that I had not found connection, not even through gospel music, [and] I grew up in the church, so. I dove right in and got every piece of literature on him that I could find and ravished his anthology of music. And I have been following him ever since."
Burgess, who has starred in The Little Mermaid, Jersey Boys, and more on Broadway, found inspiration in Sondheim's artistry as he came into his own, both as a performer and a gay man. "There's really no reason in the world that I should have come to know this man," he says. "Growing up in the South, being a little gay boy with not many images that would reflect who I am and would become, it left a bit of a deficit. And so when I discovered his music, whenever there was any situation in my life, whenever there was great hardship, whenever there was great triumph, I slowly...realized this man literally has written a song for every occasion."
Burgess even credits Sondheim with being instrumental in his coming-out. He reveals, "I felt that I had all the tools just because of his music. And he's never written any overt stories about homosexuality or coming out of the closet, but he's written such human stories and stories of fairytale. And the marriage of all of those composites helped guide me in a way."
In the interview, Burgess also touches on his experiences performing Sondheim himself; the material of his he's yet to perform that he's eager to; and what words of wisdom he'd give to young queer folks coming of age as he did.
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