Nobody can say Sierra Boggess isn’t up for a challenge. After making her Broadway debut encased in fins and rolling footwear as Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the golden-voiced actress headed to London to give an Olivier Award-nominated performance as unlucky-in-love Christine Daae in Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much-scrutinized (and later rejiggered) sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. Now Boggess is taking on a role that won Audra McDonald a Tony 15 years ago, soprano Sharon Graham in Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway revival of Terrence McNally’s Master Class. Just before opening night, the vivacious actress chatted with Broadway.com about her NYC return opposite Tyne Daly.
Welcome back to New York after a jam-packed couple of years.
It’s been a whirlwind, and I love that I’m doing something so different than the last thing I did on Broadway. I certainly didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a Disney princess for the rest of my life [after The Little Mermaid]. You can’t get any more different than going from a 16-year-old mermaid to playing a mother of a 10-year-old son in the sequel of Phantom—and now a student who is studying opera for a master class with Maria Callas!
Did it give you pause to take on a role that Audra McDonald made famous not that long ago?
I don’t feel I’m in competition because you can’t get more different than Sierra Boggess and Audra McDonald! [Laughs.] I wasn’t even in high school [when Master Class debuted] in 1995, so I have no idea what she did. I love Audra—she’s an incredible performer, I’ve grown up listening to her and I just want to honor the role she created. I actually got to speak with her about the character at the Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards, when we presented together.
What did she tell you?
She spoke to me about her Juilliard experience. I had been a little intimidated by that, because I never studied opera. She said, “I’m not opera-trained”; she studied vocal performance at Juilliard, so that gave me confidence. She was wonderful.
Is it true you had a photo of Maria Callas on your bulletin board during Love Never Dies?
Yes! During a note session, [director] Jack O’Brien was speaking to me about Christine, who is supposed to be the soprano of the century. He said that in my big aria, Christine needs to have vocal intelligence, which you can hear when Maria Callas sings “Casta Diva” [from Norma]. I went home and bought the recording, and I heard exactly what he was talking about. Whenever I needed a confidence boost halfway through singing ‘Love Never Dies,’ I would invoke [Callas], standing onstage. I can’t tell you how cool it is to be in this play now.
Can you sum up your experience in Love Never Dies?
I had the greatest time working on it. Certainly there were times in London when I felt lonely. I was the only American and I’m supposed to lead this company, but it’s such a different culture. London is a very laid-back place. Half the time I wondered how anything was getting done. Another tea break? Seriously? [Laughs.] Luckily, I had a beautiful relationship with Andrew [Lloyd Webber]. He’s somebody I truly adore, and I just wanted to do great service for him and his show and the character of Christine, who is his favorite leading lady. That’s what I tried to focus on, because yes, it was very difficult, and a lot of things [happened] politically. But at the end of the day, I got to do eight shows a week of the most beautiful score Andrew has ever written.
The music is gorgeous—and Christine is a more demanding role in Love Never Dies than in Phantom.
That show saved my life, it really did. I had had a massive heartbreak [before moving to London] and Love Never Dies was the place I could channel that heartbreak as Christine and go through that journey. I understand that love story. And now, again, getting to do Master Class, which is about Callas putting everything on the line for her career—and playing a student who is discovering her passion for what she does—I am so fueled!
Will Love Never Dies ever make it to Broadway?
I think it should definitely have a life on Broadway because that score should be heard everywhere. Yes, the book needs work, but I know that Andrew really, really wants it to come to Broadway and I hope it does. People should buy the cast album and listen to it.
When will we seen you in another Broadway musical?
There are things in the works, and hopefully I can say something soon.
A revival or something new?
It’s a new musical. I’m sure you know what it is, but I can’t confirm anything.
Well, after the three shows you’ve just done, whatever it is will seem easy.
After singing and dancing on heelies, half-naked, in The Little Mermaid, I said, “Nothing will feel hard after this.” Then Love Never Dies happened, which felt like singing an opera eight times a week. And now [in Master Class], I’m not singing just any aria, I’m singing Verdi’s Lady Macbeth! I’m just going to see what the universe comes up with for me next.