After originating the role of Ariel in the Disney musical The Little Mermaid on Broadway, and portraying soprano Christine Daaé in both the Las Vegas company of The Phantom of the Opera and the world-premiere sequel Love Never Dies, in London, actress Sierra Boggess is again stateside.
Playbill.com caught up with Boggess during the preview period of the Broadway revival of Terrence McNally's Master Class, in which she portrays Juilliard classical-voice student Sharon opposite stage and screen veteran Tyne Daly as formidable soprano Maria Callas.
Were you familiar with the role or the play before you auditioned?
Sierra Boggess: No. I knew the play existed and I knew about Maria Callas and that's as far as it went for me. When this audition came around, I still didn't know much except that my agent told me it was the role Audra McDonald played and won the Tony for. Luckily, I got to chat with Audra when we presented an award together recently.
Did she have any insight?
SB: She told me about how much this role and this play changed her life. I was already feeling that having gone into rehearsals. Only after just a week of rehearsals I felt so honored to be a part of this play, playing this role and getting to be on stage with Tyne Daly — it's such an extraordinary thing. But hearing Audra talk about it confirmed how I was already feeling, and it lit that fire inside me. Luckily, I didn't see her do it, so I'm not comparing myself to her. And obviously, Audra McDonald and I are very different, so I can feel like I can honor the part in the same way I would want anyone to honor a role I created.
Master Class really speaks to artists about the nobility of what it means to be an artist and to create, but it also applies to how we live our lives.
SB: That's exactly how I feel every night. I'm not in the first act. So, I have a whole routine where I turn up the [monitor] so I can hear everything that's going on on stage. I've heard the play over and over again by now, but there are certain lines that stick out to me. Things that Callas is saying. Even though she's not a great teacher — she's actually the worst kind of teacher — but, still, as a student, you go away having a life-changing experience.
I also have to remember that it's Terrence McNally. These aren't quotes from Maria Callas, this is Terrence McNally's genius brain. Callas is the vehicle for what he's saying. It's all about artists. When Callas is talking about artists and looks at the audience and asks, "Where would you be without us? Think about that?" I love that. She's right. That's why you come to the theatre, because you want to be swept up by artists. Callas is teaching these students that it's not just about the way you sound. She was such a raw performer.
How did this role come about? Where you looking do to a straight play? You're so well known as a musical theatre actress.
SB: Power of intention. I really believe it. I was in London, living there for 18 months doing Love Never Dies. I was playing Christine Daaé ten years [after the action of The Phantom of the Opera] — she has become a famous opera singer. So, I was researching opera a bit more, just to enhance my take on Christine. And Jack O'Brien, who directed me in that and is one of the most extraordinary human beings I've ever met in my life, was the first person to ever really talk to me about Maria Callas, especially about her vocal intelligence when she sings "Casta Diva." So, I got a recording of it and listened to it for the first time. I was really experiencing who she was and how different she was than the other opera singers I had listened to.
So this was a year before I even had an audition for Master Class. I was also thinking that I wanted to do straight plays, because of working with Jack, who is such an actor's director. I was bitten by the bug of wanting to do a straight play.
But I also know how difficult it is once you get into musical theatre, especially Disney. You can very easily be pigeonholed, with people saying, "She's a Disney princess for the rest of her life." I want my career to be full of many different things, not just one strict track. But this play came up, and I'm singing in it, Oh my God am I singing in it!, but I certainly want to keep doing plays as well.
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