BWW Interview: Sierra Boggess Discusses Her Upcoming UK Concert at Cadogan Hall!
Sierra Boggess is known for originating the roles of Ariel in The Little Mermaid on Broadway and Christine in Love Never Dies in the West End, as well as multiple stints playing her in The Phantom of the Opera.
Most recently, she portrayed Cinderella in the Hollywood Bowl's production of Into the Woods, and also in new musical Ever After. She spoke to BroadwayWorld UK about her upcoming solo concerts at Cadogan Hall on Sunday 2 February.
Who inspired you most growing up?
My first answer is always Barbra Streisand. She's someone who has deeply inspired me for as long as I can remember. Barbra was the first musical theatre performer who I remember watching - and falling in love with her fearlessness and that voice that was unique to her. No one else sounds like her; no one else has her humour. She's my biggest inspiration.
But I also need to mention my teachers inspired me, as well as my family - I'm the middle of three sisters, and they're both musicians. I'm lucky to say people around me who've always inspired me.
What excites you most about returning to London?
London has always felt like a second home to me. There's something extremely magical about the place.
I come from America, and our country is not that old. When I'm in a place that has so much history, like London, it just feels cooler than I've ever known. I'm thrilled to get to go back to what I call my second home. The air and the whole energy of London feels like a place that I'm coming home to.
I've spent so much time in London: I've lived there, I've worked there. I have a London family made up of my colleagues from the different shows and stuff that I did over in the West End. I'm really looking forward to getting to see everybody.
What can we expect at the concert? Some Little Mermaid? Some Phantom?
People will certainly get to hear the songs that I'm known for and expecting to hear me sing from The Little Mermaid, of course, and Phantom. There will also be some songs that I just love to sing.
My sister and musical director are coming with me too! My sister, Summer Boggess, is an extraordinary cellist. She plays in the orchestra for Mean Girls on Broadway, her ninth Broadway show. I'm not just saying this because she's my sister, but she's the most sought-after cellist. She's always featured in my concerts.
Her husband and my brother-in-law, Brian Hertz, is also going to be my musical director, so it's a real family affair! He's an MD and a pianist on Broadway as well. They'll form part of a six-piece ensemble that we're planning to have at Cadogan Hall. We've "zhuzhed" up my usual set-up for London, because of how excited we are about performing here!
You mentioned The Little Mermaid. Are you excited about the upcoming live-action remake?
Oh yes. Absolutely. The casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel really excited me. It's huge news! To anybody who had anything negative to say about the decision, I say, "She's a mermaid!". I did the show, and it doesn't say anywhere in the script that a white girl with red hair comes out of the water.
I'm really excited to see it and see Halle in the role. The Little Mermaid one of my favourite shows and characters, so for this to be remade as a live-action feature is going to be really, really special.
How did you find the process of revisiting Christine when you returned to Phantom, particularly after playing her in Love Never Dies?
I don't know why, but I've always felt connected to the character of Christine, so I don't find it difficult to reconnect to her. Even when I finish with a particular contract, no matter how long it is, I never feel done playing her. It's so strange!
The way Christine is written as a role, particularly musically, you just can't get enough of it. That's the reason why I think the show has lasted so long. People can't get enough of Phantom. As an actor, it's one of the biggest gifts to play such a role.
It was so awesome to get to revisit the original after playing Christine in the sequel because I learned new things about how things turn out for her, in terms of how that particular version of events was written. It's interesting as an actor to realise you can layer in a bunch of things because you know what the future holds for your character. I felt like I could become more nuanced in my portrayal of Christine in Phantom because in doing Love Never Dies, I had filled in for myself the answers of things that I wasn't clear on the first time around I played her.
It's not very often that you get to be in a sequel of a show, let alone revisit a role. For me, returning to Christine has never been a gimmick for the audience. Every time I revisit her feeds my soul.
That said, it's exhausting too because her journey is intense! It's more than a caricature love triangle between Christine, the Phantom and Raoul. It's crazy. It's real.
Do you prefer playing a character on stage or yourself in a concert setting?
I can't choose, but I must say I've become addicted to being myself on stage. At first, I was terrified of it when I was supposed to do my first solo show because I thought, "No one is going to want to see me, they'll want to see my characters. I know how to play characters, I've trained for that." But now I love being myself on stage.
I talk about it all the time when I teach kids or talk with other performers who are trying to put together their show. We all have that same thing in common of being terrified of being ourselves, but after that first concert, I thought "This is so addictive: to just be on a stage and just be me".
I absolutely love getting to communicate with the audience as Sierra. In person, people realise that I'm not those ingenues that I'm known for. I've lost count of the number of times people meet me in person who says they were expecting me to have a British accent because of all the "pulled divas" I've played - as my friend puts it.
I love being immersed in a character, but then I also love getting to talk as myself - this crazy girl from Colorado!
Your time in School of Rock was a departure from those ingenues. Did you enjoy that change of scene?
Yes, I loved doing that. I love trying to find things that are out of my comfort zone. Roles that are different and not necessarily what people would expect. I had a lot of fun playing Principal Mullins.
Any advice for aspiring performers or your former self?
For of all, I always tell everybody, "You are enough. You are so enough. It's unbelievable how enough you are". What I mean by that the way you came to be on this planet, is enough. Anything else that you add to your existence is the icing on the cake.
Coming from that place of knowing you are here for a purpose; you're here for a reason; that nobody is on this planet by accident... If you have that as your armour, you can show up as a performer and then see what you bring to the room. That's a good place to be in.
I also tell people that it's really important to have the desire to perform, but also the willingness to do the work. What I mean by work, as any aspiring musical theatre kid knows, is singing all the time; taking dance and acting classes; doing monologues by yourself in your room etc.
Whatever it is, do the work and do the necessary self-work too. Get therapy if you need therapy! I love therapy. It's so helpful to go. As actors, we portray so many different kinds of human being, so don't you also want to explore your own healing and better understand the human condition?
Where did your infamous "You are enough..." mantra come from?
I was taking a masterclass when I was 17 years old from a woman called Mary Setrakian. She's since become one of my dearest friends
It was actually something she said off-the-cuff: she was working with somebody and was trying to get them to put their arms down or something, something where they were trying to do too much in their performance. She said "You're enough! You're so enough! It's incredible how enough you are!"
I thought it was so funny. I'd never heard words put together like that, so I wrote it down in my notebook.
Years later, I'm doing The Little Mermaid, and I'm receiving all these fan letters from people. They weren't just "Oh my God, I love you!" messages. People were sharing what they were going through like I was some sort of mermaid therapist!
It's funny and fascinating how people trust Disney princesses, and so because I was playing The Little Mermaid, they were sending me all this heart-breaking stuff. I realised I didn't know how to help them, but that it wasn't my responsibility to be their therapist. I knew I needed to say something though.
That quote from that masterclass with Mary kept coming back to me. I realised the people writing to me just needed to know they were enough, and so I would start writing back, "Dear so-and-so, you are enough, you are so enough, it's unbelievable how enough you are! Love, Sierra".
Somewhere along the line, "incredible" became "unbelievable", but it has very much become my war cry.
Any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Unfortunately, I'm not sure if I can talk about any of the things I'm involved with. I wish I knew any more about what I can say.
My whole 2020 is currently revolving around my London concert anyway because it means so, so much to me. Then I'll be able to focus on my other projects. Until I get to London and do the concert, I can't really think about the other things.
Of the characters you've played, who would you go on a road trip with and where would you go?
Oh cool! A road trip! Everybody would be so wonderful to go on a road trip with - except maybe Fantine, because she's a bit depressing.
I would definitely want Miss Mullins in the car, because she would have carried out all the research of exactly where we're going. We would know exactly how many miles we had to go to the next thing; she would have already booked our hotel etc. We would be ready to go, and we wouldn't have to worry about anything because Principal Rosalie Mullins would always save the day.
I would need Ariel in the car too because she has that underwater superpower. If we ever needed to visit any underwater world, which of course we would, she'll be able to get us there.
We would also need Christine, because we'd be having a lot of singalongs and she can hit all the high stuff. I think I also need to include Cinderella, the most adventurous character I've played, both in Into the Woods and Ever After. She's the coolest, most fearless person.
I feel that road trip of those people would be really fun. We'd rent a bus so that anyone reading this who wanted to come could also tag along!
Why should people come to see your London concert?
People should come because I'm going to be in a state of the utmost joy, more than I can possibly fathom. London, for me, is a place where I changed as a person; where I grew as a person; that I've always loved. This is going to be a concert of joy and love and hopefully some inspiration and music.
I've performed all over the world with my solo show, and the fact that I'm now coming to London feels, not complete, because I'm nowhere near finished, but it feels official. It feels right.
We're living in a difficult world right now, so I want everybody to have a chance to escape from whatever they're dealing with for a couple of hours and just sing and have a great time. That's why you should come to my concert.
Sierra Boggess at Cadogan Hall on 2 February
Photography credit: Matthew Murphy