Sierra Boggess is one of Broadway’s brightest stars. Most famously, Sierra originated the role of Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid on Broadway and is hailed by Andrew Lloyd Webber as “the best Christine” in The Phantom of the Opera.
Sierra is now no stranger to originating Broadway and West End roles including Christine in Phantom sequel Love Never Dies, It Shoulda Been You directed by David Hyde Pierce, and the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber musical offering School of Rock on Broadway. Performing in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne in June, Maryann Wright chatted with her ahead of her arrival.
Australia! You’ve not been here before?
Sierra: Australia’s has been on my bucket list. Everyone that I talk to says Australia’s their favourite place. Everyone wants to come because you’re literally on the other side of the world. I’m going to get on a metal cylinder and be lifted into the sky and when I get out of the cylinder hours and hours later I’m on the other side of the world!
What can audiences expect of your concert?
Fans will get to see all the things I’m known for: Little Mermaid, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and I’ll be singing Phantom in French. My sister who is a cellist from New York is coming and we will duet too. This is a concert I’ve put together over the years. It’s me, it’s not a character, it’s the world according to Sierra. People will definitely be asked to say [Sierra’s catch-cry] on the count of three: “You are enough, you are so enough, it is unbelievable how enough you are.”
Phantom in French! What was learning that like and why is it not happening anymore?
I had never spoken a word of French so I spent four months learning it via Skype with a Parisian phonetician. She’d teach me how to pronounce everything perfectly. But the theatre in Paris where Phantom of the Opera was going to be staged burned down so now it may never happen. I never know why these things do happen but I know too much to not be down about it. A fire is such a strange and final thing.
Many dream of a career like yours. What gets you through and keeps you on track?
Knowing that your career doesn’t define you. I’m a student of Wayne Dyer’s teachings and he talks about how “we are not what we do, we are not what we have, and we are not what people think of us”. Yet in our theatre training, we think we are what we do and what people think of us and it just isn’t so. Wayne’s teaching takes the pressure off – if you don’t get this show or achieve this, you still are who you are, it doesn’t make you any less. You are enough. I feel good going to sleep at night with who I am.
Maryann Williamson does lectures here in New York that I go to every week and she recommends “waking up in the morning saying how can I serve instead of what can I get”. Living in New York it’s easy to default to “what can I get”. Shifting the mindset to “how can I serve” is completely different. I ask that before I go into my solo concerts, I keep open to the inspiration coming through.
How does little Sierra and older Sierra who has learned these teachings differ?
It’s funny because I feel like doubt and fear is learned behavior, and actually it’s about getting back to our younger self. When you think about your younger self, which is pure and a ball of beautiful life and energy, it’s more about how you would talk to your younger self. “Middle of the road Sierra” learned doubt and fear and now I care so much with how I feel, I want to feel good. It’s not being Pollyanna. Things happen like the fire in Paris. It’s not that you don’t go down it’s that you don’t stay down as long.
Les Miserables was your first national tour, Little Mermaid was your Broadway debut. What was it like getting into that first show?
Les Miserables was one of my dream shows, it’s my father’s favourite show. I was in the ensemble and I remember sitting in the barricade in rehearsal watching them onstage and crying, it seemed like a dream. It was the most extraordinary experience. I was on that tour for 6 months, then I booked Phantom in Las Vegas playing Christine, and I met Hal (Prince), Gillian (Lynne) and Andrew Lloyd Webber because it was a brand new production. They really gave me my start and that’s where my relationship has continued from. I’ve had wonderful things happen and it was a lot of work – a lot of work – but I also love the work.
It’s easy to look at a career like yours that has flowed and forget how hard you have to work to keep that flow, let alone how good you have to be to get cast in that first show…
You have to have the desire and you have to want to work your ass off. I was in the BFA musical theatre program at Millikin University and in that program you’re singing and dancing every day. My schedule there was more crazy than my schedule in New York but there was nowhere else I’d rather been. When I’m not doing 8 shows a week, which takes up all your time, I go back to class and take care of my body and health and voice so I can sing the way I want to sing. It’s a cool practice and it’s up and down like anything else, we’re just in the spotlight.
You have the pressure but it’s a wonderful commitment and reward…
Yes, we have the pressure. I’m the title of a “millions of dollars” musical that is sitting on my shoulders. The way you deal with that pressure is to know that you’ve worked really hard, and that you take care of your voice. You’re not smoking and drinking, you’re going home and being quiet. They say you live like nuns when doing a role like that and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. And it’s all temporary. Tyne Daly who I’ve worked with a couple of times now, and is one of my great mentors says, “at its best and at its worst it’s all temp work“. Such a cool way to look at our business and life. It’s all temporary. So what are we going to do with that and how are we going to show up? I know that when I’m feeling good, I show up!
Sierra Boggess is an inspiration to many worldwide, and Australia will be excited to see her in action spreading the love of music and life. Sierra performs at Sydney’s State Theatre (Saturday 3 June) 2017; Brisbane’s Concert Hall – QPAC (Thursday 8 June); and Hamer Hall – Arts Centre Melbourne (Saturday 10 June). For more information, visit: www.concertworks.com.au for details.
Image: Sierra Boggess as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera – photo by Joan Marcus
Words: Maryann Wright (actor/singer and writer)