Interview with Sierra Boggess
After laughing my way through the Broadway production of It Shoulda Been You at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre last week, I was thrilled to catch up with leading lady Sierra Boggess before she went on stage for another hilarious performance as bride-to-be 'Rebecca'. Ms Boggess is a familiar name on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to West End productions such as Love Never Dies in which she originated the role of 'Christine', and her later performances in Les Misérables and the 25th anniversary Royal Albert Hall celebration of The Phantom of the Opera.
On Broadway, Ms Boggess originated the role of Ariel in Disney's The Little Mermaid, starred alongside Tyne Daly in Master Class and reprised the role of Christine in Broadway's production of The Phantom of the Opera. She is continuing creating original roles as she prepares to start rehearsals in Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest musical School of Rock, straight after her current show It Shoulda Been You closes on 9 August 2015.
Dom O'Hanlon: Thank you for having time to talk with me before a show! Do you have a specific pre-show ritual?
Sierra Boggess: You know, I don't really have one! I share a dressing room with Lisa Howard who plays my sister and I guess we just hang out and chat about real life and keep it real – these characters are so real, it allows us to go on stage and stay in that truthful place.
DOH: You've spent a lot of time in London and have such a huge fan base here. Do you have any preference between the West End and Broadway?
SB: I love London! I love both cities equally and feel so fortunate that I've been able to work in both places. It's such a dream come true. I can't wait to work in the West End again I always feel so grateful, but right now I'm focusing on Broadway. I have a whole London family and a New York family – the only thing that sucks is not being able to see everyone in the same place. I miss my friends over there so much!I absolutely love working in the West End and look forward to doing so again soon, hopefully. My fan base is awesome! It's always so cool when they come to New York to see the show. Doing shows like Phantom and Les Mis lends itself to a very wide fan base.
DOH: You've made brave choices as an actor originating so many original roles in new musicals. What drew you to ISBY?
SB: Exactly that! I really enjoy getting out of my comfort zone as an actor and doing something I'm not known for and completely different. I love the character of Rebecca, she's searching for her truth throughout the whole piece. I love the fact that she discovers that being truthful and accepting of your own self is the number one thing to have such a great day. If you have no acceptance of that you'll feel anxious and awkward the whole time – it's not what others say about you it's what you say about yourself. Also working with this company – I get to work with Tyne Daley again. Harriet [Harris] is one of the most extraordinary actresses I've ever come into contact with, and then Chip Zein, and of course David Hyde Pierce the director. It's just not really an opportunity you want to pass up. I wanted to learn and soak up as much as I could working with people like that.
DOH: This season has been a great season for gay characters on Broadway which is quite amazing and unique. What's the response been to your character Rebecca?
SB: I feel lucky and honoured to be able to play this character at this time in our life and in 2015. First of all the transgender movement, with people finally recognising Caitlin Jenner – it's been extraordinary and the demand for acceptance. Then to have been playing this character at this time when the Supreme Court recognised Gay Marriage – it's been so emotional to everyone and me in particular. It was one of the most incredible things that decision – the response that night was extraordinary. The writer actually wrote a special line for my character to say that just acknowledged the decision and gave a little wink. The audience – I mean it stopped the show! They screamed and went crazy! I'm proud to be a part of something like this during this time, we couldn't have planned that – it was amazing. It's the time of acceptance and I couldn't be more proud of this show and my character. I also feel it's my responsibility to be truthful to her and play her with respect and love. I've had so many people come up to me at stage door and writing letters saying that the song I sing “A Little Bit Less Than” has helped them come out and helped them to be accepting of who they are – it's really been their anthem. It's made me weep.
DOH: Have you had any funny reactions to the twist from the audience?
SB: Well I think the craziest thing is that we get a humongous reaction every night without fail – even if you know it's coming. People are extremely vocal when they come to see our show throughout the entire thing. Tyne says every time before we go on stage “these are real people having real experiences” and I think with that as a mantra people think they're watching a reality show so they're reacting as though these people are real and they are part of this party. That's what's really special about this show.
DOH: The twist is so cleverly wound into the book – you don't see it coming. Also the marketing – of the show makes it come as a surprise.
SB: That's the thing we fell into with this show – how do we market it? For most of the run they were being very secretive about the twist, but now most people know and we can be vocal about it because it's something that can sell the show as well. The initial marketing you thought you were coming to see a show about a bride and a groom and parents who don't like each other but there's so much more to it.
DOH: Has it been strange being in a show that has already posted closing? Does having this longer period to let it go mean you can relax and enjoy it a bit more?
SB: Well I actually have never been part of a show closing! I have always left a show before it closed. I do know our producers are truly the finest producers that I've ever worked with before and they gave us six weeks – it's highly unusual – most of the time it's a couple of weeks. It is allowing us to go out with a huge celebration. We can take the time and just enjoy each other. We've all been saying this – this cast has bonded in a way that I have never known. Everyone has loved coming to work and seeing each other and it's nice to know that we have this time to say goodbye. No question thought that final week will be so emotional for all of us.
DOH: And you have the cast album now too – that must be a cherry on the top?
SB: Oh yes absolutely – we're so pleased that it's getting preserved forever and I think the album will be one of those that will give people songs to sing at their recitals and auditions – it's so exciting.
DOH: For me it was hearing Lisa at the Tonys this year when I finally heard the score, as well as your New York Times video that really helped me connect to the show and get excited.
SB: You're right – Lisa's performance at the Tonys was the best performance in that entire broadcast – it was SO incredible. Everyone was freaking out about how amazing it was. That's what she does every night – eight nights a week. And she's a wife and has two kids under the age of five and she's one of the most consistent performers I've ever met, she's like a Superwoman and so extraordinary. I can't say enough awesome things about her!
DOH: That performance showed Lisa's talents but also the talent behind the scenes – it was such a brave and wise move to use that telecast moment to pick that performance to highlight the show. That's what made people sit up and want to see the show, in what was a very busy season.
SB: That's exactly what happened – tickets picked up straight after that.
DOH: No rest for the wicked, you're straight back into rehearsals once you close!
SB: I'm finishing on August 9th and then going straight to rehearsals for School of Rock – that's my next Broadway show and I'm excited about that.
DOH: You're back working with the Lord himself – what's that like?
SB: Yes! We have a great relationship – very collaborative and trusting of each other. I'm so excited to bring that character to life. He's done so much work on it and everyone is so excited. I really think it's going to be awesome. I'm really looking forward to working with all the kids and Alex Brightman, who is playing the Jack Black character, is so awesome – I'm thrilled for him, he's finally getting his big break. It's going to be such an awesome experience.
DOH: Again it's a very different character for you to play!
SB: Which I love!
DOH: Is it vocally different? Will this be Lloyd Webber back at his rockiest?
SB: Yes – it's very different. You're just going to have to wait and hear it – it's pretty awesome.
DOH: So you're booked it seems throughout 2016 – could we potentially see you make a return to London?
SB: Broadway is happening right now, but we'll see what happens! I'm always always looking forward to being back in London – it's like my second home.
DOH: Finally, can you give me your elevator pitch for It Shoulda Been You?
SB: Literally it's the cast! Come and see this group of people – you can feel the love, you're getting to see the great Tyne Daley on stage doing what she does best. You'll get to hear some of the greatest songs and lyrics that you'll ever hear and you'll laugh so much but then cry because you're so moved. This show has everything!
It Shoulda Been You is booking through to 9 August 2015 at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
School of Rock begins performances on 9 November 2015 at Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre and is currently booking through to 12 June 2016.