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Tom Gregory

Tituss Burgess: Stand Up, He's Rockin' the Boat

Sunday, June 7, 2009 permalink

The human experience is mystifying. For land, food, energy, water, or sustenance we fight to outperform the competition at any costs. Darwin's survival of the fittest testifies that prehistoric man bashed and gnawed his way for the last piece of meat in a famine. Life was an ugly, inhumane road for early man; kind and great souls were eaten while the vicious survived. Pretty bleak picture. Not much time to cultivate the arts when you're wielding a big club.

But on another more benevolent plane -- man -- when he had time in a good year -- celebrated life through art. Theater -- in one form or another, predates language. Stories that brought early man to tears, laughter, and an understanding of his own emotions hastened humanity's evolution. Great performances -- whether around a campfire or across an orchestra pit, drive through our souls, intertwine together then pull an audience up as it rises as one to its feet.

In the current production of Guys and Dolls (which I co-produced), Tituss Burgess, as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, begs the audience to bound from their seats in an old-fashioned standing ovation. His powerful rendition of "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat", is feast of BRAVO to the great American musical. It's performances like Tituss' that define the musical as great American melodic literature. He'll be performing this number at tonight's televised awards. I've embedded an interview I taped (in April) with Tituss. I could have used some lighting, but I grabbed him when I could - he's a quickly rising talent amongst a cast of which I am very proud.

Despite economic gloom, tonight's Tony Awards are an especially wonderful celebration of America's best. Winners yes, but losers? No way. This is the season that wasn't supposed to be, the season of gloom; the season when Madoff, mortgages, and meltdowns would eclipse the footlights. Cynicism and fatalism never were the American way. Tonight we celebrate not just another season, but a year of optimists and doers that proved every un-American skeptic wrong. I couldn't be more proud.