Profile Sierra Boggess brings her versatile voice to Australia
Broadway star Sierra Boggess is bringing her burnished soprano to the Australian stage, writes Cameron Pegg
Sierra Boggess has a clear message for the animals of Australia: be prepared. “All wildlife should be on alert that I’m coming and I’m going to need to stare at them and touch them, if that’s allowed,” she confesses from New York ahead of her first visit.
In between cuddling koalas, the Broadway star, Instagram aficionado and cat lover will perform concerts with a full orchestra in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne next month.
In the past decade, Boggess has made some of the biggest roles in the musical theatre canon her own. In doing so, she convinced Andrew Lloyd Webber to cast her as the female lead in Love Never Dies, the eagerly anticipated sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. Christine Daae, the chorus girl singled out by her disfigured singing teacher to become a star, has become Boggess’s calling card.
The young woman from Denver, Colorado, found her way to the Catacombs of Paris in a roundabout way. Not long after graduating from college, Boggess was paying her dues in a touring production of Les Miserables when the opportunity arose to audition for a new production of Phantom to open in Las Vegas.
It was her sole day off, and Boggess rushed back to rejoin the tour, only for tragedy to intervene when her train struck a person on the tracks. She made it to the theatre but had missed the first act — a cardinal sin for a rookie performer. The gamble was vindicated when she learned she had earned a callback and would be singing for Lloyd Webber himself.
The following week she flew to New York where the famed composer, along with his longtime choreographer Gillian Lynne and legendary producer and director Harold “Hal” Prince, were waiting in the auditorium of the Ambassador Theatre. The trio put Boggess to work, testing her with multiple aspiring Phantoms to see which pairing would work best.
With a laugh, she recalls Prince’s pithy feedback: “Well, that was swell.”
As she sped back to the airport, Boggess got the call that changed her life. She relocated to Vegas, where she played Christine for a year, and has performed the character in various incarnations in the West End and on Broadway.
Boggess has a burnished, ringing soprano that seems an ideal match for the vocal acrobatics required for the role. As a young singer she was drawn to the technical rigour required to pull it off, but hundreds of performances later it’s the psychology of the character that keeps her coming back.
Lloyd Webber declared her the definitive Christine and cast her in the gala performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2011 to mark the show’s 25th anniversary. As a birthday surprise, Boggess was joined on stage by some of the best known Phantoms, including Australian leading man Anthony Warlow.
“I went up to Anthony and I said to him, ‘On behalf of all men in musical theatre, I want to thank you’, because every man that I know listened to his voice and wanted to sound like him.” (The Jekyll and Hyde original recording, starring Warlow, was one of her favourites during college.)
Boggess has developed a reputation as a safe
pair of hands for new characters. She debuted Ariel in the original musical production of The
Little Mermaid; took the coveted role of Christine in Love Never Dies when it opened in London; and recently starred as Principal Mullins in
School of Rock, Lloyd Webber’s latest Broadway hit. (One role remains unfinished — that of Christine in the long-awaited French adaptation of Phantom. After learning the entire show in another language, Boggess was denied the chance to perform when the theatre was damaged in a fire during rehearsals. Happily, a bilingual rendition of Wishing You Were Some
how Here Again is now part of her repertoire.) Her most surprising creation, however, was unveiled at a 2013 charity performance where she floored the audience with a ruthless impersonation of Britney Spears. Clad in towering heels and clutching a giant can of Red Bull as she staggered across the stage, Boggess caterwauled her way through Think of Me — transforming one of Phantom’s signature arias into a pop music train wreck. As if to prove her versa- tility, at the same concert she delivered a powerful, perfectly enunciated rendition of Stars from
Les Miserables — the torch song performed by the policeman Javert. Should the role ever be cast as a woman, Boggess will be waiting.
The singer is a student of self-help authors Wayne Dyer, Brene Brown and Marianne Williamson, and her Instagram account is peppered with motivational quotes from the likes of Oscar Wilde, AA Milne and Paulo Coelho.
One particular aphorism has stuck with her. At 17, a singing teacher told her: “You are enough. You are so enough. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.” It became her “war cry”, and fans began to ask for handwritten copies of the quote. The young performer obliged, without realising what it would inspire.
“I can’t tell you the amount of fans that have come up to me and shown me their tattoos in my handwriting,” she says, dumbfounded.
With 125,000 followers on Instagram, Boggess knows she has a platform to share her views, and curates her content wisely.
“We have social media and people really, really pay attention to what you’re saying. So I became very clear early on that what I put out there I need to make sure it’s something that is helpful and is good energy as opposed to contributing more darkness.”
The Women’s March that swept across the US following the inauguration of President Donald Trump was a family affair. Boggess’s parents participated in Colorado, while Sierra and her cellist sister, Summer, took to the streets with fellow performers in New York. Their younger sister Allegra is also an accomplished musician. All three siblings support ASTEP, a not-for-profit organisation that brings music to underprivileged kids around the world.
True to her Zen philosophy, Boggess chooses not to predict her next role or performing partner, with one notable exception.
“I’ve been very lucky with the people I’ve worked with and I look forward to seeing who else the universe is going to throw at me. But anybody who knows me knows I am a huge fan of Barbra Streisand, so any time that she wants to work with me would be just fine.”
Convincing Streisand to tour down under at short notice might be a tall order, but what about a cameo from her BFF Britney?
Boggess is coy about revealing her Australian set list, but a smile enters her voice.
“That is very, very possible.”
Sierra Boggess will perform at the State Theatre in Sydney on June 3, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane on June 8, and the Arts Centre in Melbourne on June 10.
ANYBODY WHO KNOWS ME KNOWS I AM A HUGE FAN OF BARBRA STREISAND SIERRA BOGGESS
Soprano Sierra Boggess has a reputation for being a safe pair of hands with new musical roles
Boggess in, from left, School of Rock, The Little Mermaid and Love Never Dies