Tituss Burgess on Co-Hosting 'Disney Parks Magical Christmas Celebration'
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Broadway star Tituss Burgess knows Disney in a way few of us do — in 2002, the actor and singer was none other than a member of the stage show “Festival of the Lion King,” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
"I remember watching other stars waltz in and film on the property," he tells TV Insider. "I never really thought I would get the opportunity to do it."
Now, the star is doing more than waltzing in. He's co-host of ABC's Disney Parks Magical Christmas Celebration on December 25, alongside Julianne Hough. They also sing a duet, joining a musical lineup that includes Becky G, Jon Batiste, Keedron Bryant, Maddie & Tae, Trevor Jackson, Tori Kelly, and the Florida A&M University Gospel Choir.
Also on hand are Keegan-Michael Key, a wealth of Disney characters and even a sneak peek of Marvel Studios WandaVision.
We catch up with five-time Emmy-nominated Burgess about coming full circle, his hopes for the year ahead, and more.
How does it feel to end such a challenging year with some Disney optimism?
Tituss Burgess: It’s always good to be associated with something uplifting. I was happy to be part of the magic we’re all in need of right now. And that Disney thought enough of me to bring me aboard — I don’t take that charge lightly.
You and Julianne Hough perform “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” together. Sounds like quite the collaboration.
I was aware of her when she was in Grease Live and thought she was extremely talented. Of course, she comes from an extremely talented family.
Which performances from the show stand out to you?
Everyone stood out and brought their own unique spin. The holidays mean many [different] things to a very diversified America. It’s important that Disney brought together all sorts of seasonings, if you will.
What does Christmas mean to you?
Christmas means family and time off from work. Christmas means taking stock and inventory of the year that has passed and really being aware. Of course, this year, it feels a tad more heightened. We think about all the blessings that we have. There are many less fortunate.
Do you have a specific Christmas tradition?
Turning my phone off.
So how did it feel back to be back at Disney World?
It was full circle coming back down [to Orlando] to film. I received a hefty dose of nostalgia — it was a trip down memory lane.
What’s your go-to Disney movie?
The Little Mermaid, come on!
And your favorite Disney character?
Sebastian, come on!
To switch topics, COVID has really created such a heartbreaking situation on Broadway.
We need someone who is overseeing what the arts does on a nationwide level for the economy, and to have a more zoomed out view of our contribution to the economy. This isn’t the first crisis and won’t be the last. There is severe aid that is needed economically. People are losing insurance, work. I don’t have this figured out, but I do know this is a governmental problem, not just an arts problem.
You're involved in feature films, Next year, audiences can see you in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect as Reverend Dr. James Cleveland. What was it like to dig into the role?
He was a mentor to Aretha Franklin. I grew up on the man’s music. I remember we'd sing all the music in his catalog in church from an early age. There was so much he contributed to the lexicon and what it means to be a gospel composer, arranger, musician. They call him the “King of Gospel Music,” and not for nothing.
Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
A global goal, a hope for us, is that we move out of the disaster of the last four years and into a brighter space. I hope that for you, and I hope that for me.
Disney Parks Magical Christmas Celebration, December 25 morning, 10/9c, ABC