Sierra Boggess has had one heck of a rise. At 29 she's already been the titular character in a Disney mega-musical (The Little Mermaid) and spent 18 months in London playing the female lead in no less than Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Weber's sequel to his biggest hit, The Phantom of the Opera. But now she's back in New York working (and singing opera) in her first straight play—a Manhattan Theater Club revival of Terrance McNally's Maria Callas devotional Master Class starring Tyne Daly. With the show's run extended to September 4, we caught up with Boggess to talk about filling Audra McDonald's shoes, why Tyne Daly is the best, and the pleasures of biking to Broadway.
So, you've been pretty successful in your chosen field. But tell me, how do you go from The Little Mermaid and Love Never Dies to a relatively small piece like Master Class? [Laughs] It's sort of something that was really important to me that I do many different kinds of things in my career, not just one type of character. I actually really enjoy the challenge of taking on something new and different. Especially with this role—I had to learn how to sing opera quite quickly, and I have some great people I get to work with. My director Stephen [Wadsworth], with all of his connections to Juilliard and the Met, got me to work with some people at both of those places. And I um, just go from there, really. And I'm really liking the phrase "fake it til' you make it." I had never sung opera before but now I'm singing Verdi every night on Broadway.
And this is your first major straight play, right? Yeah, I've never done a straight play on Broadway before, no, so I really love it. I would love to keep doing plays because it's so different and so fun. I really enjoy it!
Did you know Master Class before you got the role or did you learn it as you were going along? I'd heard of the play, of course, but I'd didn't see the original production, I've never seen any productions. I had no idea. I was aware that Audra McDonald had played the part only because my agent told me that when he said, 'This is the part you're up for.' Which was kind of great, because I didn't have any sort of thing to compare myself to, and I just went in and was honest as "Sierra who would be playing this character of Sharon," which was really cool. It kind of took that intimidation factor away, like I have to be like this character or whatever. I've also never done a revival, so this is my first revival, as well. But it doesn't matter these days because even if you're originating something from scratch you still get compared to other people. I'm used to it.
Certainly. And how was it working with a legend like Tyne Daly? It's incredible! It's what you dream of. She's an amazing performer, just extraordinary. Off-stage, as well. An incredible lady. Just a true leading lady in the sense that she makes sure that all of her company is comfortable... And she has the hardest job of all of us. Still, she's our deputy. She does everything. She's so gracious and lovely. I just absolutely adore her and can't say enough good things about her.
Well that's good because she chews you out on stage every night! Exactly. That's the really interesting thing because she's not like that at all.
How did you prepare? It sounds like you had some vocal training you had to do in terms of getting prepared to do the Verdi. But did you do anything else? Listen to the Juilliard tapes or anything? Talk to Terrence McNally at all? Yeah, of course I talked with Terrence. I watched a lot of stuff on YouTube of Callas. I was living in London for eighteen months. I came back in March and we started rehearsals end of April. I had that amount of time to get this aria going in my voice and in my body. I really spent a ton of time working on that because I'm playing a student, then I just decided to prepare like that, I decided to prepare as if I really am a student at Juilliard and I'm going to take a master class with someone—so I have to make sure I know the song the best way I possibly can. So, yeah, I listened to a lot of Callas and watched a lot of Callas, and yeah, that's really what I did. It was like Callas boot camp, basically, before I started rehearsal.
After 18 months in London, is it nice to be back in New York? Yes, I missed New York so much. I loved London a lot, but home is New York and I've really, really missed being here. It was no question for me when I realized I had this job and OK, you get to come home. That was really awesome.
So, I guess I have to ask, is Love Never Dies coming to Broadway ever? Hopefully! Andrew really wants it to and it's a beautiful score and I hope it does get a life on Broadway, but of course I don't know any of that kind of stuff. But I think it would do really well on Broadway. I loved doing that show, every second of it.
And now that you are back in Gotham, how are you keeping busy between performances? Like when I'm not performing? What do you mean?
You tell me. Do you have any restaurants you go to that you could recommend? Things like that. I live on the Upper West Side, so pretty much everywhere around here. And I ride my bike everywhere so it's really easy to get from the theater and back. I have a great little sushi place that I go to that's right in my neighborhood. And a great Mexican place, I love Mexican food. But the place that I'm always going every Sunday, is down to the water, to the Hudson, on the west side. I'm such a water person, there are a lot of cafes and a lot of really cute little places around there. It's not Central Park, it's not tourist-y, it's just really the place I love to be. The girl who plays Sophie in the show, she and I go...So yeah, I like to find these little places in New York that are like natural places, you know what I mean? So, that's where I feel really connected and happy.
Well, I can tell you Gothamist is always happy to hear about another biker. But the bike scene here really shifted while you were away. Have you been using the new bike lanes and all of that? Yeah! It's awesome because once I get past Columbus Circle, there's a whole new bike lane. I think it was being developed last year but I wasn't in the country. So that one getting in, going south, is excellent. To get home, coming up 8th...I do get really annoyed, though. Bikes are treated like such a nuisance. Even though we have our own bike lane, they still feel they can cut you off and drive in your lane. It makes me crazy! A bike lane should get respected, by law, but these cars, they don't care! So that kind of sucks but I'm really grateful that there are designated bike lanes by now, and going up Central Park as well. I just wish there was another on the other side to go south on Central Park West.
Are you the only biker in the cast or does anyone else ride? No! No one else does, actually. One of the guys wanted to. He was living in like, Brooklyn or something and I was like, Ummm no. It's just so easy because I live on the Upper West Side so it's quite easy to get around. Last night I ended up not riding my bike because it was raining and I wish I had because after the show, trying to get a cab...Bikes are just the best thing. It's the same amount of time to take a cab uptown as it is to ride your bike.
And cheaper! And it's nice, it's peaceful and yeah it's cheaper and you're saving the environment. And after a show, strangely enough, it's a way to cool down.
But still, I'd love to see Tyne Daly on a bike... Yeah [laughs].
You've had quite a lot of big stage work in a short career, but very little screen work. Is that by design? My passion has always been to do musical theater and Broadway. That's where my heart's been and I've been very lucky to be employed since I graduated school in 2004. There hasn't been time [for film] and it's not my main passion, so power of intention is really relevant in my life, and my intention was to be on stage doing theater. One day if that happened, if my heart starts going there, and I'm interested...I'm starting to get more interested now but it's never been something I've been extremely passionate about. Because of that, going with the field that you're in, it's a joy to do what I do. I love it. The other stuff, maybe one day doing TV and film, would be nice icing on the cake.
Good, always nice to see Broadway actors be like 'No no, this is what I want to do, as opposed to actors who are like 'This is what I'm doing until I get my TV deal.' I've never been like that. Nowadays especially, with the amount of fame that comes with it...I think that you have to really be interested in wanting to be a massively famous person and I don't aspire to having people follow me around everywhere with a camera.
You wouldn't be able to ride your bike home if that were the case. Exactly. I like to ride my bike.
You can catch Sierra and the rest of the Master Class cast nightly at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. Click here for more info.