“There I was doing this iconic role, and I felt like I left my artistic soul on the stage. I wept after I came off because I had nothing else. I gave it all that night,” actress Sierra Boggess says nearly overrun with emotion as she describes her critically acclaimed performance as Christine Daaé in the 25th Anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera. “Beyond the press and all that stuff, it was one of the most artistically fulfilling experiences of my life. And then Andrew [Lloyd Webber] called me his angel of music, and it was just… it’s not to be believed, you know?”
In fact, for anyone following Boggess’ career, her phenomenal success opposite Phantom co-star Ramin Karimloo was not at all difficult to believe. She had previously played Christine Daaé from 2006-2007 in Las Vegas and again from 2010-2011 in London. Although the 25th anniversary concert was remarkably high profile — a recorded broadcast was shown in movie theaters worldwide — it came as no surprise to fans that Boggess filled the role with aplomb. She returned to the character again for the 2013 Broadway production opposite Hugh Panaro, and again in a limited engagement Broadway run with Norm Lewis, ending September 2014.
“[Christine was] my first lead role professionally, and it changed my life,” Boggess muses. “In a way it feels spiritual to me.” In response to those who reverently hail Boggess and Karimloo as “this generation’s Christine and Phantom,” however, the Colorado native remains modest. “For us it was and it will always be Michael [Crawford] and Sarah [Brightman],” she laughs, referring to the iconic pair that filled the roles beginning in 1986. Since that time, Phantom has become the longest running show on Broadway, and Boggess feels blessed to have been a part of the “amazing, strange, crazy ride.”
Currently, Boggess is preparing for a role in upcoming Broadway production of It Shoulda Been You. She’s very excited to work with director David Hyde Pierce, who won hearts and ratings as Dr. Niles Crane on the hit sitcom Frasier. “When I met him, there was not an ounce of ego,” she says. “He’s this humble soul and just somebody that you feel drawn to like, ‘I want to know more of you.’ Not your résumé. ‘You.'” She considers Pierce a role model in this regard.
When it comes to fashion, however, the stylish Boggess needs no mentor. “I think it’s important to dress well, because this is my body. This is the physical body that I get to have, and I get to decorate on this planet and in this lifetime. So I care about my appearance when I leave the house.”
Although Boggess now loves to wear curve-flattering designer dresses by the likes of Ted Baker (showcased in this feature), and proudly claims a “fantastic collection” of Louboutin heels, she wasn’t always so comfortable in her skin. “I spent a lot of my younger life hating my body, hating the way that I looked,” she confesses. “I mean, I dressed in layers and layers of sweats my entire college time. I was just in as many layers of sweats as possible, hiding. That’s what I needed to go through, I guess, at that time. I think so many people relate to that. But once you wake up from that, you realize there’s more to this life. … [Now] I care about what I look like for myself, because I feel good. I feel like I get to celebrate me.”
Until recently, Boggess had considerably less room to play with her image, the result of steady work and demanding roles. After graduating from Millikin University in Illinois, the young actress was immediately granted her Equity card as part of ensemble cast of David Zippel’s Princesses. Shortly after, she joined the national touring company of Les Misérables as the Cossette cover and then began her fateful relationship with Christine Daaé, originating the role in the Las Vegas production of The Phantom of the Opera. And she didn’t rest there. During a vacation week from Phantom, Boggess flew to New York for auditions and was cast as Ariel in the highly anticipated 2007 Broadway production of The Little Mermaid.
During her time “under the sea,” Boggess says she was struck by the immense weight of other people’s expectations. “People start deciding for you that you’re famous, and you start being defined by other people’s idea of your ”persona,'” she says. “Not only that, they link you to the characters you’re most famous for. It’s an interesting task to be in the spotlight and keep listening to your core: who you know you are and want to be. That has nothing to do with the general public’s perception of you.” Eight times a week, she lost herself in another character. Yet when she wasn’t on stage, an idea Boggess frequently returned to was a quotation by Wayne Dyer: what other people think of me is none of my business.
This thought carried her through her run on London’s West End in Love Never Dies (sequel to The Phantom of the Opera), and her subsequent return to Phantom on Broadway. While anyone else might have collapsed from exhaustion at this point, in 2013, Sierra performed her debut solo show, Awakening. It was at this point that Sierra feels she really came into her own, taking full control of her life and her image. “I found myself awakening to the fact that we are not defined by what we do, and what we have, and what other people think of us. That’s not what this life is about,” she explains. “My quest on this earth is to keep living in the question and digging, digging, digging into my life.” She asks: what can I do to balance other people’s expectations? How can I meet my responsibilities as well as becoming a more loving person?
Between shows nowadays, Boggess delights in meditating and spending quiet evenings at home with her cat. That said, she also enjoys hanging out with friends: “You can’t live in your head all the time. You have to find balance.” One of her favorite pastimes is Bikram yoga, which she does every day she can. It’s a habit she picked up from another female cast member during her stint with Les Miz. Boggess cites yoga as one of the primary activities she does to stay grounded — a necessary priority for someone who has reached her level of fame, where strangers recognize her and stop her on the subway.
Although it can be easy to get caught up in the superficialities that come part and parcel with show business, “There is so much more to this life than what we know,” reflects Boggess, turning very serious. “I had this moment a couple of years ago when my granddad, who I loved very much, passed away. A couple days before he died, I was sitting with him holding his hand. If anyone’s ever been around someone who’s dying, you know what I mean — you watch them go in and out of this plane. They’re not here.” When he awoke, they talked openly about the experience and made sure he was ready. Years later, the memory sticks with Boggess. “I’m just so aware that there is another place, and we can’t take ourselves too seriously here. We just can’t.”
It Shoulda Been You will begin its run this spring, with Boggess playing alongside David Burtka, Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris. Thinking beyond that, Boggess plans to wait and see what feels right. But whatever comes next, “It’s going to show up, and it’s going to be better than I’ve ever imagined,” she exclaims. “There are no accidents. I was born at a time when I could grow up and be the right age to play Christine in the 25th anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera. If I could talk to my little girl self, listening to the soundtrack in the car with my dad, I would say: ‘You will play her. Andrew Lloyd Webber will one day call you his angel of music.’ Anything can happen in your life.”