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Las Vegas’ biggest stage export is conquering London and Broadway

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What a mug! And Sierra Boggess’ voice isn’t too shabby, either.
Photo: Steve Friess

Sierra Boggess sits in a West End dressing room nursing an oversized “I Heart London” mug, wearing an adorable knitted beret and trying her best to be diplomatic.

The tiny actress with the LuPone-sized voice is grateful for her stint in Las Vegas and, quite literally, wouldn’t be where she is today without it.

Boggess played the female lead, Christine Daae, in the original cast of Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular in 2006, auditioning for the role despite her now-former agent’s anti-Vegas prejudice. But, no, she doesn’t see herself back on the Strip anytime soon—which probably means never.

“Vegas is not a place I’d want to live,” she said carefully, her voice dipping in a Londoner accent she claims not to hear. “I’m happy I tried it, but that’s not where I want my career to be.”

Normally, this would get my dander up. What does she mean, it’s not a place to live? Why can’t her career be here?

With Boggess, though, it makes sense. She landed one of the choicest roles in all of musical theater back when the Strip was a growing hotbed of Broadway productions. For a 23-year-old breaking into the business, that was a terrific opportunity, especially given that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Phantom’s original director, Hal Prince, were intimately involved in the show when it opened at the Venetian in 2006. Last month, the production clocked performance No. 2,000.

Since then, though, the musical frenzy has cooled amid a trail of failed Broadway-to-Vegas imports. Nobody has yet actually premiered a world-class piece of musical storytelling in Vegas, so there’s really no room for a talent like Boggess to grow.

Instead, we should cheer her as she conquers the stage world in a manner never before seen by any Vegas actor. She left Phantom in 2007 to create Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid on Broadway and then, last year, she opened the Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies, in London. That’s pretty huge.

Is the Phantom sequel, set 10 years later in Coney Island, any good? Well, no. Boggess is a trooper, suggesting it’s “the most beautiful score Andrew has ever written,” but the plot’s logic gaps are just impossible to forgive.

Still, who cares when even the most brutal reviews provided raves for our Sierra, who is also up for an Olivier, the West End’s Tony? Thousands of actresses had performed as Christine before Lloyd Webber picked her for this special new incarnation, proving Boggess’ claim that the famed composer told her in 2006 she was “one of the best Christines I’ve ever seen.”

Back then, Boggess assumed he said that to all the girls. Now, Sierra is far more aware of her own potential, and she proudly displays a shot of her hugging Lloyd Webber in a silver frame on her dressing room coffee table. Up next, she heads to Broadway to play Maria Callas’ student in a revival of Terrence McNally’s Master Class, opposite Tyne Daly as Callas. Then, she told us, she’ll star in a much-anticipated new musical Rebecca, based on the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier, whenever it lands on Broadway.

Quite heady stuff, all of it. And Boggess knows her Strip stint put her on this path.

“I just loved doing the show [in Las Vegas] in the environment that it was in,” she recalled of the $40 million, special-effects-filled theater. “We’re doing this most romantic show, and you walk out and it’s like ‘ding, ding, ding.’ That’s crazy! Some people might be offended that I say this, but it’s like [we brought] a touch of class.”

Yes, some might be offended. Oh well. We’re easy to offend, aren’t we? But the fact is, Vegas has had plenty of famous performers take to Strip stages with their star well hung, and countless formerly hot stars have revived careers here.

What we’ve never had was anyone like Sierra. It’ll be exciting to see where she ends up next.

Follow Steve on Twitter at TheStripPodcast or head to VegasHappensHere.com for his blog and weekly celeb-interview podcast, The Strip. E-mail him at SteveFriess@aol.com.
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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