Age & Hometown: 40; Nashville, Tennessee
Current Role: Keeping the town of Sweetwater, Kansas safe from the antics of razzle-dazzle con artist Jonas Nightingale (Raúl Esparza) as sheriff Marla McGowan in Leap of Faith.
Taking the Lead: Although this strong-voiced actress made her Broadway debut more than a decade ago in The Scarlet Pimpernel, she deserves “fresh face” status for her breakthrough as the lead in Leap of Faith. “I feel excited that people believe in me enough to risk not putting a celebrity in this role,” Phillips says of replacing Brooke Shields, who played Marla in the show’s L.A. premiere. “It’s amazing!” The actress’ career path included five years away from NYC pursuing music, the birth of two sons and, after her return, stints as Alice Ripley’s standby in Next to Normal, Marion in Priscilla Queen of the Desert and now Sheriff Marla. “I feel like all roads led to this intersection, and this is exactly where I need to be right now.”
The Esparza Effect: Phillips is thrilled to be paired with Raúl Esparza, having previously shared the stage with the four-time Tony nominee in a concert of Sondheim songs. “What is amazing about Raúl is that he is so willing to open himself up to the other actors,” she says. “He and I share a passion: the desire to discover new things. I have found him to be so warm and generous in this process with me, even though he has such a huge load to carry in the show.” Oh, and she also gets to kiss one of the hottest men on Broadway. “Yes, I do,” Phillips says with a laugh, “and I’m proud of it!”
Country Strong: When’s she’s not wielding a sheriff’s badge at the St. James Theatre, Phillips indulges her southern roots as half of the country duo 10th & Carlisle. “The incredible thing about working in a band is that it’s our vision,” she says of singing with longtime friend and former Priscilla castmate Tad Wilson. “Singing a show tune is transporting, and that can be a magical moment when I reach down and embody somebody else, but the thing about singing a pop or country song is that there is no character involved. It can be scary because it’s much more intimate—it’s really about Jessica saying these words.”