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Sierra Boggess Has Class

The popular actress discusses her return to Broadway in Manhattan Theatre Club's production of Master Class.

Jeremy Cohen and Sierra Boggess in Master Class
(© Joan Marcus)
Sierra Boggess first gained national attention as Christine in the Las Vegas production of The Phantom of the Opera before enchanting Broadway as Ariel in The Little Mermaid, and then returning to the role of Christine in the London production of Love Never Dies. Now, she's back on the Great White Way as the aspiring opera singer Sharon in Manhattan Theatre Club's revival of Terrence McNally's Master Class, opposite Tyne Daly as Maria Callas. TheaterMania recently spoke to Boggess about the role.

THEATERMANIA: Had things worked out differently, you might have been here on Broadway with Love Never Dies right now. How does it feel for that plan to have shifted?
SIERRA BOGGESS: I never count on anything in this business. I think that's foolish. So I was never banking on the fact that I would be here with that show. In fact, I chose to leave Love Never Dies during its run and I was going to stay in London and sing Amalia in Stephen Mear's production of She Loves Me, which is such a dream role for me. I was looking forward to doing that and then this offer came along, so I really just take it as it comes.

TM: How much did you know about Maria Callas before you got this role?
SB: I'm not a trained opera singer. But I was really researching opera while I was doing Love Never Dies, because Christine is supposed to be "the soprano of our century," and our director Jack O'Brien, who I love more than life itself, said to me: "Christine has to have vocal intelligence. It's like listening to a recording by Maria Callas." And that was the first time that I realized I should listen to her. She really is the definition of vocal intelligence.

TM: Did Callas influence how you sing the aria from Macbeth in Master Class?
SB: Absolutely. I learned it from watching Maria Callas on YouTube. I only had a couple of weeks to learn it before my audition. The truth is most people don't touch that aria until they're well into their 30s or 40s, but that's who my character is. She's young and she's ambitious and that's what she wants to sing. And that attitude sort of speaks to me. I had a teacher in school whom I told that I wanted to learn the role of Mimi in La Boheme and she said "no, that's not your voice type, you'll never sing that." And so I said ok and I went to the library and xeroxed the score and taught myself the role of Mimi.

Sierra Boggess and Tyne Daly in Master Class
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: How does singing opera challenge your voice in a way that more traditional Broadway music doesn't?
SB: I had dinner the other night with Andrew Lloyd Webber and I told him I am so grateful to him for writing the kind of scores he writes. There is no way I would have been able to do Master Class if I hadn't been doing eight shows a week of Love Never Dies last year. He writes like an opera composer, so my voice had been strengthened. Luckily, as well, I hadn't been belting for the past 18 months. This is very different from something like The Little Mermaid, because it's using my whole voice, especially this particular piece. There isn't a time in the aria when Lady Macbeth is singing softly and nicely. She is angry and she is ambitious and my voice has to color that. I feel so lucky that I have gotten to use this new voice.

TM: Tell me a little bit about working with Tyne Daly.
SB: Tyne is the coolest leading lady I've ever worked with in my entire life. She is just 100 percent real. And she takes such good care of us. I also think she responds to the other actors in the cast as well, because we're also serious about the work. I also have so much fun every time I go on stage with her, because I have no idea what we're going to do -- we have to be living in the feelings of the characters. But she takes time to play as well. She's not consumed in this -- after our eight-show weeks, we are all so happy to go out together and have a drink and detox from the week.

TM: The part you're playing was originated by Audra McDonald, and won her a Tony Award. Do those things add extra pressure when you go out on stage?
SB: I certainly don't go on stage thinking I'm going to win me a Tony Award. If that happened, it would be really kick ass, but that would be the worst thing in the world for me to think about while I'm performing. I've created parts from scratch before and I still got compared to people - I was compared to Sarah Brightman when I did Love Never Dies just because she created Christine in Phantom, and I was compared to a cartoon character when I did The Little Mermaid. I think it's just in people's nature to compare. I love Audra McDonald. I've listened to her my whole life and I was lucky enough to sit and talk to her about ways to handle Sharon. In the end, I just want to do Sharon justice. That's all I can hope for.


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