How Sierra Boggess Never Gives Up, Not Even When She Ran the New York Marathon | Playbill

How Did I Get Here How Sierra Boggess Never Gives Up, Not Even When She Ran the New York Marathon

The Phantom of the Opera star is back on Broadway this season in the new Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman musical, Harmony.

Graphic by Vi Dang

Sierra Boggess, who possesses one of the most beautiful, soaring sopranos in the business (as well as an equally exciting belt), is back on stage this season in the long-awaited Broadway debut of Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman's Harmony at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Boggess plays the role of Mary, a part she created in the musical's acclaimed Off-Broadway debut in 2022 at National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, the new musical spotlights the Comedian Harmonists, a six-man vocal group in 1920s Germany, who took the world by storm until their inclusion of Jewish singers put them on a collision course with history. In the show, Mary, who converts to Judaism, is married to one of the Harmonists—and chooses to stay with her husband despite the danger that it puts her in. She is the show's voice of reason and hope.

The Denver native has also been seen on Broadway in the title role of Disney's The Little Mermaid, Rosalie in School of Rock—The Musical, Rebecca in It Shoulda Been You, Sharon Graham in the 2011 revival of Master Class, and Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera. Boggess, in fact, has a long history with Phantomhaving also played Christine in both the Las Vegas production and the 25th anniversary London concert staging. She also opened the West End world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies, earning an Olivier nomination for her performance.

In the interview below for the Playbill series How Did I Get Here—spotlighting not only actors, but directors, designers, musicians, and others who work on and off the stage to create the magic that is live theatre—Boggess candidly shares how she owes her big break to Phantom music director Kristen Blodgette and the course she wishes was taught in theatre schools.

Where did you train/study?
Sierra BoggessI went to Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois! A small school in the middle of nowhere, and it was the best decision I made. I’m still so close to my classmates from my time there!

Was there a teacher who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this instructor standout?
My high school drama teacher, Nancy Priest. She is, hands down, the most inspirational in that we were a public school in Denver, Colorado, with no money. And yet, she managed to have us put on four shows every year. Each student was so invested in the making of the shows. If you were not cast onstage, you would help paint the sets, make the costumes, run the lights, sound, makeup, all the things! Before every show, we would all stand in a circle holding hands and say, “United we stand, divided we fall, let’s make this show the best of all!” All of this to say, she instilled in us that theatre is a team sport in a sense! We are a team, not individuals! And we all make this show together! I love her dearly, and every time I go home to visit Colorado, I always make sure I see her. She’s been retired now for a long time but still such an important part of my life!

Sierra Boggess in The Phantom of the Opera Joan Marcus

You were such an integral part of Phantom on Broadway and around the world. What did the closing of the show mean to you?
Oof, I felt so many feelings when it closed! Just the hole in all of our hearts that the show is no longer there. Also, that [director] Hal Prince and [choreographer] Gillie Lynne and [scenic designer] Maria Björnson are no longer with us, and that was their legacy, and that it’s not running at the Majestic anymore—it just really hits a chord. I love that piece, and always will, and I am really grateful to have been the 25th anniversary Christine for both London and Broadway and that people still get to watch our performance from the 25th—thank God it was filmed! A moment in history that is preserved. I’m so grateful.

How did your role in Harmony come about? Is there a moment in the show for your character that is most meaningful to you?
Harmony came about through a phone call from Warren Carlyle, and I honestly didn't know anything about the show or the history of the show's creation at all! So once I delved into it, I understood. Also, once I heard the music I thought, "Wow, this is a gift!" This show has now been part of my life since 2019, and it’s a joy to be with these people telling this story every night, truly.

The most meaningful moment in the show for my character? Oh, there are so many. Mary (who I play) isn’t onstage as much as the fellas are. So when she is there, it really means something. Every scene that Mary is there is meaningful because she’s trying to help her husband or her best friend or the six fellas stay safe, or build them up, or give them courage, etc. I think the moment lately that has been really been hitting my heart is in the second act when my husband is terrified that we have to split up; the Jews go together [with] the gentiles, and he is devastated to ask me to leave with him. I look at him and say, “Where’s your Bible,” and I start reading from the Book of Ruth telling him, “Where you go I will go… whether it’s through hell or to the promise land… God knows where, I’ll be there where you go.” I/Mary make that decision that I am following him into certain death because I will not leave his side for whatever the world is trying to do to break us. In my head I feel like Mary thinks she can keep him safe. It breaks my heart about all that that time represents and people thinking they could keep each other safe when Nazis are about. 

Tell me about a time you almost gave up but didn’t.
It’s interesting. I don't have "quit" in me. I just don't. It’s how I was raised for sure. It just was never, ever an option. The closest I came to quitting was running the New York City Marathon. Around mile 24 (of 26.2), I was done. My mind kept telling me to just stop. It was something about having the finish line in sight that made me want to be done. My little sister was running with me, and she could tell I had gotten kind of quiet and my body was trying to slow me down to a stop. And she kept looking at me and saying, “You got this.” It was a moment I will never forget. I think about this all the time because it is what we do as artists, too. When we think, “OK, just stop, just quit, there’s no point, I’m done anyway,” someone comes along to remind you, You got this. Keep going. Don't give up. You didn't come this far to only come this far. Truly.

So I really don't give up. I keep trying to figure it out. To find a way. And that comes with performing all the time. If you want it, you’ll figure out how to find a way. Your limits are, a lot of times, in the unhelpful chatter in your mind. And reach out to those that you trust—people that have more wisdom than you. It’s the best way to keep going.

Derrick Baskin, Sierra Boggess, Tyler Maynard, and Sherie Rene Scott in Disney's The Little Mermaid. Joan Marcus

What do you consider your big break?
My big break is a mixture of Phantom and Little Mermaid. It is a mixture because Little Mermaid was my Broadway debut, and so it truly is how I broke into the industry. I was unknown before that! But I add Phantom in there because I had done Phantom in Las Vegas the year before Mermaid, and that was how I met Hal Prince and Gillie Lynne and Andrew Lloyd Webber. So I was on their radar from then on. And, of course, I then worked with them many more times.

When Little Mermaid was auditioning in New York, no one knew who I was. And the director of The Little Mermaid [Francesca Zambello] called her friend Kristen Blodgette (who I was working with as musical director of Phantom) and asked if she knew anyone they could see for the role of Ariel, as they were having a hard time finding the girl! Kristen said, “Sierra Boggess,” and Francesca said, “I think we auditioned her already,” and Kristen said, “See her again.” And the rest is history. I went in for a final callback and booked the role. And so…who you are in your job is everything because you never know what will turn out because of it! I am so grateful to Kristen for seeing something in me and feeling confident enough to say, “This girl is worth seeing” and that Disney took a chance on me!

Sierra Boggess and the children of School of Rock - The Musical

Tell me about a job/opportunity you really wanted but didn’t get. How did you get over that disappointment?
There was a show I was perfect for. I had one of those auditions for that were the “you just nailed that” kind. The director even stood up and gave me a hug. It was an overwhelming feeling of “this job is yours,” and even my agents thought so. I had to wait one month for a callback for some reason, and I continued working on the material even during that time just so I was ready! I went in for the final, and right before I went in, the director came out with his arm around the woman that was in before me. When I came in for my callback, the energy in the room felt very stale and very much like it was a waste of time for me to be in there. But I did my job and left. You can feel these things. 

When I left the callback, I felt confused. And when my agents called, they even said, “Casting said there is nothing we can tell her that makes sense of why she didn't get this job.” And that was that. Turns out, there was a girl that the director knew and was close to, and there’s no competing with that. It was done before I was back in the room. I was heartbroken after spending over two months learning 40 pages of material, an audition that went brilliantly, and then a callback that was a waste of time because of the personal circumstances.

That day, I was teaching a master class for about 50 students in their teens and 20s. I walked in, and I stood in front of the kids, and I said, "I just found out that I didn't get my dream job. And I am completely devastated and been crying all morning. And here I am about to teach you about this business. You would think I am going to tell you to just give up, don't do this, the lows are too painful, it's not worth it. But, in fact, I’m here in front of you as proof that your heart will break, but you will keep on going! There is a reason I am not supposed to have that particular dream come true. But it doesn’t devalue me as a person, and I still get to be here and try again with something else! Even with this heartbreak, I know that I am excited to help you all work on your craft so you can be prepared to be in this business! So who wants to go first, raise your hand!” 

It was one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taught. 

The truth is, there is no sense in why these things happen, and it can be very defeating. But it’s part of what we do—we fall down, we get up, we fall down, we get up. And somehow we keep going. It’s the only way!

Chip Zien, Sierra Boggess, and Tyne Daly in It Shoulda Been You Joan Marcus

What advice would you give your younger self or anyone starting out?
Keep “the work” up. There is no “arriving” and then stopping. Our achievements and goals are simply that. Then the world keeps going, so we gotta keep going, too! Finding that you never stop improving your craft and never stop practicing is really important to your survival as an artist! And to know that the world is looking for your voice! Imitation is great to find places in your range you didn't think were possible. But then make it your own. The world wants what you have to give! You are enough as you are, and the rest is icing on the cake!

What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now?
That there is a business side to this industry. I was not prepared for that at all and was really intimidated by it. I wish colleges would have a class on that part of things for Musical Theatre majors (if you have a school that does offer that, be sure to take it). It’s tricky to learn as you go and navigate all the politics. But it also is how I learned: as I go! It makes sense that, of course, show business is also the “business of show,” and the more you know, the more you can feel less overwhelmed and also not take things personally, etc. The fun part is the singing and dancing! And then there’s the other side that can also become fun—you just gotta know it a little more!

Do you have a dream stage role?
I always say whatever comes my way becomes my dream role. There are a few right now in my head, but I feel like if I say them out loud, I won’t be able to actualize them!

What is your proudest achievement as an actor?
I would say that I am most proud of myself for surviving through the most nerve-racking of situations. Feeling panic or anxiety before going onstage when things in my personal life were threatening to take me down and I went onstage and did my job despite the doubt and fear! And then, knowing I can do hard things! Anyone who is a performer or an aspiring performer I think understands what I am talking about. 

That’s why learning the art of meditation can sometimes be the thing that truly saves us. If we can get our minds to stop that chatter of believing any and every thought we have ever had, then we are really gonna be on our way to greatness.

Photos: Opening Night of Harmony

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