On Sunday, July 30th at 7:30 pm, Broadway leading lady Sierra Boggess will join an all-star team of fellow musical theater luminaries in Everybody Rise! A Sondheim Celebration, a concert event, at the Hollywood Bowl. The show will, of course, pay homage to the life and legacy of inimitable composer Stephen Sondheim who passed away at age 91 on November 26, 2021.
Robert Longbottom and Kevin Stites, with the latter also set to conduct, are putting together the expected-to-be stellar program for Everybody Rise! at the 101-year-old amphitheater. In addition to putting Boggess deservedly on the marquee, Longbottom and Stites have procured a list of multi-time award winners, including the iconic master of her craft Patti Lupone, the quintessential Sutton Foster who recently finished a box office-smashing run in The Music Man with Hugh Jackman, the well-established Norm Lewis who just wrapped A Soldier’s Play at the Ahmanson Theatre, the versatile Skylar Astin who earned rave reviews as Seymour in Off-Broadway’s Little Shop of Horrors, along with do-it-all Brian Stokes Mitchell who awed SoCal audiences in LA Opera’s 2019 production of The Light in the Piazza.
The Denver, CO native Boggess, who received her B.F.A. from Millikin University in 2004, has more or less been off and running since graduation, solidifying an elite reputation among her peers and theatre patrons who can’t get enough of the soprano. There is something very classy about the way Boggess performs, as she is simultaneously a throwback with her trademark, richly smooth vocal style while also having a modern touch. She originated two monumental roles: Ariel in Disney Theatrical’s The Little Mermaid in 2008-09, and Rosalie Mullins in the runaway hit of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock: The Musical in 2015-16. Yet, what she is probably most renowned for is reinvigorating the character of Christine Daaé in Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera and Love Never Dies. Few actresses can say they’ve found the happy medium, somewhere between vulnerability and vocal firepower, like Boggess has when it comes to portraying Daaé.
With nearly two decades of credits to her name, the in-demand Boggess has refused to rest on her laurels, continuing to give her best to every role she is cast in. Local audiences saw this first-hand this past winter when she depicted Lily Craven in The Secret Garden at the Ahmanson Theatre and, before that (four years ago to be precise), when she played Cinderella in a surreal production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods at the Hollywood Bowl, more than holding her own in relation to other Broadway headliners. Many of these same contemporaries will join her in Everybody Rise! A Sondheim Celebration — one of the more hot-ticket items in town.
With July 30th looming, Boggess kindly lent some of her time to LAexcites to discuss her love for Sondheim, what musical theater lovers can expect in Everybody Rise! at the Bowl, the rehearsal process for the event, if it’s a challenge to perform at the Bowl versus a conventional theatre, the mindset she has before going on stage, the advice she would give budding artists, and more. The interview concludes with a fun word-association game.
What does Stephen Sondheim mean to you, and to what extent do you think his work has influenced your career?
Boggess: [Stephen Sondheim’s] material is so unique, with such a unique sound. [He’s] influenced our industry, the way people nowadays are, and he is truly a genius at this craft. And to tackle a Sondheim song, it takes courage because you must dig into so many levels of what the lyrics mean. And musically, it’s not always the simplest thing to learn. Growing up in musical theater and when getting my degree, you study Sondheim, you talk about him, because his intervals are interesting, including his notes and where they go. It’s all very interesting.
You can grow a lot as an actor working on his material; his material is a gift. I’d like to think of myself as an actor who sings, and Sondheim gives you the opportunity to look at each song like a monologue, where the words flow out, and nothing is ever on the nose; it’s just brilliantly crafted. When you look at each piece as an actor, you can look at it as a monologue, and don’t have to add much to it because you have to understand what you’re singing about.
Speaking of Sondheim, I just saw the direct-from-Broadway production of Into the Woods at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A. You can tell the material is not easy and that it takes a certain mastery to deliver it the way it deserves to be presented.
Boggess: With Into the Woods at the Bowl, when I did “On the Steps of the Palace” — and the piece is brilliant — it doesn’t yield Cinderella and the idea of singing a pretty song about being with a prince, but rather it’s about a woman struggling with a decision of where she should be in her life. It’s funny, poignant, and a brilliant piece that you get to delve into as an actor and what it means and how it relates to us, even when playing a fairy-tale character.
How did your involvement in Everybody Rise! A Sondheim Celebration come about, and was it in any way related to your participation as Cinderella in Into the Woods at the Hollywood Bowl in 2019?
Boggess: Bobby Longbottom is directing, and Kevin Stites is music director, and they did Into the Woods at the Bowl. That’s the only correlation with that. They called me and asked if I want to do this concert, and I said ‘of course!’ At that point, it was only Patti that was on board, and they were talking with Skylar and Sutton, and then Norm and Stokes. I love performing at the Hollywood Bowl and I love Bobby and Kevin. I’m performing with incredible people, some of whom are my friends. And so the answer was an easy yes to that — plus, it’s Sondheim!
Is there much of a rehearsal for something like this, beyond maybe a day of running through the set list?
Boggess: There’s a lot of rehearsal; a lot of us have rehearsed on our own, and then there will be more the week leading up to it as well. They’re figuring out the schedule, so I’m not exactly sure of any further details. There’s six of us, plus a 40-piece chorus, and an orchestra, so it’s definitely something you rehearse for, with all the different entrances and group numbers.
Generally, how do you get into the right mental headspace before going on stage? Do you have a ritual? Nap? Pre-show meal?
Boggess: Yeah, I mean, it’s not really a specific anything. I treat it like an athlete; you’re careful of what you eat before, though I can’t sleep too close to showtime. My ritual is getting prepared, and I allow myself two hours to get ready — with hair, makeup, and getting focused with what I’m about to do. I don’t tend to eat a lot before; I’ll eat after.
Do you still get nervous?
Boggess: I get excited; the nerves come from the same place, the butterflies you feel — and you can either be terrified or excited. As long as you rehearse, and you know what you’re doing, you get mostly excited. The nerves are good nerves, letting me know I care, especially with something like this with an incredible show that we’ll present to the audience.
Do you ever have those dreams you’ve forgotten everything on stage?
Boggess: Yeah, those anxiety dreams are legit! [laughs]
Getting back to Everybody Rise! at the Bowl, is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing or working with, and do you have an idea of the songs you might be performing?
Boggess: I know everything I’m doing, and what everyone else is doing, but I don’t know if I’m supposed to say the set list, so I won’t say. I’ve known Norm forever, for twenty years. Obviously, doing Into the Woods with Sutton and Skylar was awesome, and of course Patti and Stokes are awesome performers. I’m looking forward to the rehearsal process with everyone and knowing everyone is at the top of their game. I hope everyone enjoys the night with us performing Sondheim’s music.
As beautiful and iconic as it is, the sheer expansiveness of the Hollywood Bowl is probably not conducive to becoming immersed in a performance, from the standpoint of most audience members, despite the large screens. Did you notice any challenges when you were last there on stage, and do you have to change up how you play to the crowd?
Boggess: No, I didn’t feel that. It’s amazing, because it’s so vast, so you approach it the same way as you would any time you go on stage, which is to be honest in your performance. And what’s nice is that there are screens so people in the back can see our faces, and so you don’t have to worry too much. And I’m glad that there are screens so people can feel like it’s a little more intimate. The vibe is so energetic, and people are excited to be at the Bowl, so it truly is joyous.
You have to be there because you want to be there as an audience member, with the parking and the ordeal it is. So, it’s a great energy as a performer, and as performers we want to be there too — not because we have to be — and sing Sondheim together.
From what I was able to research, the only Sondheim works you’ve been involved with, at least on a professional level, are West Side Story, Into the Woods and A Little Night Music last year in Massachusetts. Is there a dream role in a Sondheim production you haven’t undertaken but would like to in the future?
Boggess: I would love to play Dot in Sunday in the Park with George, and I would love to do A Little Night Music again and play Desiree [Armfeldt]. There’s so many, but I would say those for now.
In a sentence or two, what’s the biggest piece of advice you would give to aspiring performers who are hoping to get to the next level, especially in a world — as highlighted by social media — where it seems practically everyone is some combination of an actor, singer, or musician?
Boggess: I guess I would encourage people to stay true to who you are and not be influenced by how many voices there are. If this is a true calling for you, then your voice is needed. It’s good to be inspired by others but not to imitate, and you should draw your inspiration from those you might be inspired by but still use your voice. It’s important to keep telling your individual story and trust that your voice is enough.
As a headliner in your business, you’ve seen many come and go, and you’ve likely mentored and been mentored by many. What would you say is the determining factor for why someone would make it on Broadway versus not?
Boggess: What I know for sure is there’s no formula to get to Broadway at all; there just isn’t one way, and not one answer to that. And the thing I tell people is that the talent is one thing but it’s what you do with it. I believe in doing the work. Like when you get a Stephen Sondheim song, it’s not enough to sing it and sound pretty. You have to be interested and curious as to what the song has to say — and you grow as an actor in that way. You have to be a hard worker if you’re doing a Broadway show with the grueling schedule. You want to work hard, in terms of the prep, getting to dance class, renting a studio, talking to your mentors and teachers, and practicing. And you have to do it all the time.
How did you discover your trademark operatic vocal style?
Boggess: I don’t know if anyone has said it like that before. I had a lot of classical training, I guess, but I’m not an opera singer. I think it’s just I sing a lot of soprano, and the sound of Broadway now is more poppy, so the soprano style is what I’m more known for.
Let’s wrap up our interview with a quick word-association game. Are you ready?
Andrew Lloyd Webber
For more information on Everybody Rise! A Sondheim Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl on July 30th, and to purchase tickets, please visit hollywoodbowl.com. To purchase tickets via phone order, call (323) 850- 2000. The Hollywood Bowl Box Office is open 10 am to 6 pm daily.