Sierra Boggess stands on the stage of 54 Below and sings "I Have Confidence," looking and sounding like Julie Andrews in a peach-colored dress. Just what you might expect from the star of Disney's The Little Mermaid and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Love Never Dies. She continues with "Lovely," the naïve courtesan's song from Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, suggesting that it is going to a certain kind of evening.
Boggess then counters with an earthy rendition of "Musetta's Waltz" from La Bohème, not only climbing up on the Steinway but lounging on it like it's a slightly bumpy chaise; this is followed by Mimi's "Donde Lieta Uscì." Both were sung in perfect Italian. This is to say, Boggess's act — which was thoroughly sold out, with added chairs in the aisles, and is to be repeated on Aug. 26 — contains several delightfully unexpected moments.
Boggess is the soprano who came out of nowhere — or, rather, the 2006 Las Vegas production of The Phantom of the Opera — to play Ariel in the abovementioned 2007 Disney musical. Her career momentum has hit a succession of roadblocks, including Lloyd Webber's 2010 Phantom-sequel Love Never Dies. What might well have been a career-making role on both sides of the Atlantic was scuttled when the show quickly fizzled. Boggess returned to the states for the Manhattan Theatre Club's 2011 production of Master Class, starring Tyne Daly, playing the role which originally launched Audra McDonald into stardom.
Boggess had already been cast in her next leading lady role, as star of the 2012 musical Rebecca... which never happened. After Rebecca was abandoned (or at least so it seems), she was announced to star in the 2013 musical Prince of Broadway... which never happened. She addresses this neatly in her act, saying, "I thought I was what I do. If I am what I do, then when I don't do — who am I?"
"I Don't Care," she sings, borrowing Eva Tanguay's song hit from 1905. When was the last time you heard that in a cabaret?
All of this reveals Boggess to be not only a pristine musical comedy soprano but a warm, engaging, and often droll clown. This can be seen in her Andrew Lloyd Webber section. Instead of recreating her roles in Phantom and Love Never Dies, she presents us with wickedly funny sketches of a pop-singer/star playing Phantom's Christine and an opera star enunciating her way through highlights from Evita, with bits of Joseph and some rather mad Jellicle Cats mixed in along the way.
The act is something of a family affair. Early on, Boggess is interrupted by a musician climbing onstage mid-number. There's something electric about the interchange between the two; it turns out that the intruder is Summer Boggess. ("That's what happens when you hire your sister to play the cello," Sierra says.) Later on, she brings up her father, Mike, to accompany her on "Wildflowers" — playing a guitar, she tells us, that he built himself. Another stretch is dedicated to the singer's grandparents, featuring a love letter from WWII and a touching rendition of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Musical director Brian Hertz offers strong support throughout from the piano.
Boggess, at one point, goes so far as to startle us. Citing the three people responsible for her first break — Phantom's Hal Prince, Andrew Lloyd Webber and choreographer Gillian Lynne — she tells us that the latter taught her "to keep my nipples firing."
There's a lot more to Boggess than Ariel, it seems. Her act at 54 Below reveals a well-rounded performer we want to see more of.
54 Below is located at 254 W. 54th Street. Tickets and additional information are available at 54Below.com.