You probably know him as the chucklesome, slick-mouthed, determined Titus Andromedon on the Netflix comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — a role that earned actor and singer Tituss Burgess four consecutive Emmy nominations for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series. Before that, Burgess sang on Broadway in such shows as Good Vibrations, The Little Mermaid, and Jersey Boys.
He will make his way to Philly as a guest vocalist for the Philly Pops’ two “Uptown Christmas” shows Sunday at the Met Philadelphia, along with Hamilton’s Mandy Gonzalez, singer Luis Figueroa, and the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas Gospel Choir. David Charles Abell will conduct.
“It’s just good old-fashioned Christmas cheer we’re going to bring,” Burgess said.
The Pops then moves back downtown to the Kimmel Center for its traditional “A Philly Pops Christmas,” Dec. 7-21, without Burgess but with Gonzalez, Abell, the St. Thomas choir, the Philly Boys Choir, and the Pops Festival Chorus.
Burgess is a formidable singer. He performed Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” at Billboard’s Women in Music event in 2018, and this July he released his debut EP, Saint Tituss.
He also appears with Eddie Murphy in the Netflix film Dolemite Is My Name, which premiered in October. “I revere him so much," Burgess said. "But you don’t just work with Eddie Murphy, you work with his legend. It follows him like a shadow. You can’t not acknowledge it when you’re in his presence.”
Burgess, 40, spoke by phone with The Philadelphia Inquirer ahead of his Philly Pops engagement. This is an edited and condensed transcript.
What songs will you be singing?
I’m not sure if it’s a surprise or if the maestro doesn’t mind but I’ll be doing some familiar tunes and some of my personal favorites. We’re going to make excellent use of that wonderful choir.
Have you performed in Philly before?
Yeah, I’ve taught [for a decade] with an organization called the Broadway Dreams Foundation, and we regularly take up occupancy at the Kimmel Center. So once a year, every summer, we come out and do a weeklong workshop, and the kids put on this enormous show at the end. The teachers, who are all Broadway vets and stars in their own right, perform with them. So in that capacity, yes.
Where did you learn to sing?
Well, my mom sings. She would drag me around from church to church and we’d do duets together. Obviously not unlike several other people, my start was in the church first and then it sort of maturated from there.
I had wonderful teachers in grade school who nudged me along. Then, when I got to [the University of Georgia], I started studying with a guy named Dr. Gregory Broughton, who is still my mentor to this day. When I got to New York, I studied with a woman by the name of Joan Lader, and she reinforced what I had learned but definitely took my voice to a different place.
What singers are you inspired by?
Renée Fleming, who is now a personal friend. It goes beyond the noise she’s able to create. It’s something much deeper.
And then there are other singers who, by certain standards by certain genres, people may not call the greatest singers, but I think they’re wonderful storytellers. The list runs the gamut. There’s a singer by the name of Anthony Warlow — his voice is just unbelievable.
It amazes me that God, or the universe, is able to put a thumbprint on how all of us not only sound but what we can create in the world.
What was it like working alongside Eddie Murphy?
He doesn’t lead with ego. Once I was able to suspend my fandom while filming with him, I was able to be in the scenes with him. But it took a while to remind myself that he actually chose me personally to be in this film with him, so I needed to show up for him.
Are there any projects that you’re currently working on?
Yeah, I’m starring opposite Jennifer Hudson in Respect, the Aretha Franklin story [due in theaters next fall], as James Cleveland. It’s a wonderful role, and production has already started. I don’t start shooting until next month.
On Feb. 1, 2020, I’m making my Carnegie Hall debut. It’s celebrating all the music of Stephen Sondheim. Some very special guest artists will be joining me that we’ll be announcing pretty soon.
Any holiday traditions you’re looking forward to?
To do as little as possible.
Philly Pops Uptown Christmas
3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, at the Met Philadelphia, 858 N. Broad St.
Information: 800-653-8000, themetphilly.com