INTERVIEW-Stonewall 50 is a 'call to stay awake,' says Broadway actor Tituss Burgess

Saturday, 29 June 2019 14:03 GMT
'Pride should be a walking celebratory protest. You can't have one without the other, or at least you shouldn't.'

By Hugo Greenhalgh

NEW YORK, June 29 (Openly) - Four-time Emmy Award nominee and Broadway actor Tituss Burgess doesn't just do activism, he sings it as well.

Aboard a chartered flight to New York to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Burgess, a star of the comedy series "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" broke into "Somewhere" from the musical "West Side Story".

The song, written by Stephen Sondheim to music by Leonard Bernstein, talks of "some day a time for us".

That is why Stonewall, seen as the birthplace of modern LGBT+ rights, resonates today, Burgess, 40, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

"I think it's a call to action," said Burgess, who was booked as the master of ceremonies aboard the special Virgin Atlantic flight from London, christened VS69 in honor of the events of 1969 outside the Stonewall Inn.

"Stonewall 50 is a call to stay awake," he said.

In June 1969, patrons of Stonewall, a Greenwich Village gay bar, stood up to police harassment and triggered days of rioting.

Their resistance gave rise to the national and global LGBT+ movement for equal rights.

Protest and pride – both shouting and singing – are integral parts of what Stonewall means, said Burgess.

"Pride should be a walking celebratory protest," he said. "You can't have one without the other, or at least you shouldn't."

Growing up in the U.S. state of Georgia, Burgess has said watching a televised version of a Sondheim musical as a child led him to pursue a career in theater.

"I, by my mere existence, am walking activism," the singer and actor said, singing lines from Sondheim's "Everybody Says Don't."

"Sondheim says, 'Make just a ripple. Come on be brave. This time a ripple, next time a wave.'"

On "Kimmy Schmidt," Burgess played the narcissistic roommate of the show's main character, who moves to New York City after being rescued from 15 years in a cult.

The role earned Burgess four Emmy nominations.

The popular comedy ended its four-season run on Netflix Inc in January, and Burgess has been working with the producers on an interactive special one-time episode of the show for 2020.

"Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe is one of the show's confirmed special guests.

On Broadway, Burgess appeared in "Guys and Dolls," "The Little Mermaid" and "Jersey Boys."

He has bought the rights to the 1996 film "The Preacher's Wife," which starred the late singer Whitney Houston, which he intends to adapt into a musical.

"All of these details are yet to be ironed out," he said.

"But it has finally gotten the traction that I'd hoped for, and it will see the light of day and that's exciting."

(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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