May 26, 2005
Sherry Boone Portrays Eliza Doolittle in Dallas Theater Center’s production of MY FAIR LADY
When Richard Hamburger, Artistic Director of the Dallas Theater Center, was casting MY FAIR LADY, he auditioned dozens of actors and singers for the starring role of Eliza Doolittle. Luckily, he found his Cockney flower girl in Sherry Boone, an accomplished singer, actor and concert soloist. Ms. Boone, an African-American, is one of the few, if not only, professional actors of color to portray the role.
Under Hamburgers’ direction, the production bowed at Portland Stage in February of 2005 and moved to the Dallas Theater Center, where it was extended by popular demand and critical acclaim. The Oregonian raved: “MY FAIR LADY has wit, pose, erudition, musicality, crackling comedy.” The Dallas Morning News boasted: “As Eliza Doolittle, Sherry Boone can bounce between soprano heights and contralto power, all shaped gorgeously into meaningful phrases.”
We asked Sherry to share this exciting experience.
Tell us a little about your training…musical theatre? Operatic?
At 18, I won a scholarship for voice lessons at the College of William and Mary. My mother wanted me to be pre-med, so I tried it for two years, but my heart was in performing in shows at William and Mary. One day, without telling my Mom, and with the financial help of two dear friends, I auditioned for Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), which has an excellent musical theatre program. I got in and completed my BFA requirement in Drama there in 1995.
All along, my teachers always told me that my voice was perfect for opera. But I was never moved by operatic music - until I heard Maria Callas singing Liu’s Death Aria (“Tu che di gel sei cinta”) from Puccini’s TURANDOT. I told myself, “If I can sing opera like that, then I’ll do it.” Since my voice had a wide range, I could sing different voice parts (as could Marian Anderson, who is one of my inspirations) and was able to “walk the fence” between musical theatre and opera.
You also founded an opera company…
Yes I did. Singing colleagues, actors of color in particular, expressed their frustration over doing their umpteenth production of PORGY AND BESS. Now, PORGY AND BESS is a beautiful opera; however, they also want the opportunity to sing Mozart, Wagner, and Verdi! So I decided to start an multi-cultural opera company, Opera at Home, dedicated to creating a “heart to heart” exchange between audience and artist and sharing classical music with underserved audiences – low income, no income, senior centers, children. We perform everywhere from the grandest of concert halls to the most intimate of settings in private homes for special events and holiday functions.
With my collaborator, Sean Jeremy Palmer, we wrote our first opera, ELLEN CRAFT, based on a true story about a half black/half white woman and her husband, William Craft, who both escaped from slavery in 1848 out of Macon, GA. Ellen disguised herself as a white man traveling with his slave. This story is unique in that it lays bare sentiments through many eyes: - slaves, slave masters, slave mistresses, children, slave catchers – a true journey filled with love, hatred, revenge, forgiveness and ultimately redemption. We hope to bring ELLEN CRAFT to musical and opera stages around the world. It’s a very moving and beautiful piece that will be translated into many languages.
How did you get your Equity card?
I got hired at Pittsburgh CLO (Civic Light Opera) while I was at Carnegie Mellon. PCLO casts a lot of their shows locally. It was an opportunity for artists in the area to get their Equity cards. It still is a good opportunity for that.
What was your first paid acting job?
My first paid job was singing selections from THE WIZ and A CHORUS LINE at Mrs. Weiner’s home in Virginia when I was 15. I got paid $15. I remember we tried to negotiate for more but Mrs. Weiner would not budge!
What challenges or choices did you face, portraying a role that is so closely identified with Julie Andrews?
None at all! I love her! It was a kick to do a role she had created. I tried my best to honor her while becoming Eliza through my voice.
Do you have a favorite song, or moment in MY FAIR LADY?
I have two favorite moments in MY FAIR LADY. The first is when Freddy (played by Jeffrey Edgerton) sings, “On the Street Where You Live.” I went to CMU with Jeffrey and for me it is always an incredible, organic experience to work with someone who shares that CMU experience – the connection was humbling and rewarding for me. The second moment is when Martin Kildare (Higgins) sings “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” It’s my favorite song of the show, because it’s a real love song for me as Higgins is struggling so to understand the revelations of his heart – very tender.
What other roles have you been cast in non-traditionally?
I’ve been blessed to parallel roles originated by the amazing Audra McDonald, whose showing up and doing all the great things that she is doing is so positive and inspirational. I’ve played Carrie in The National Tour of Carousel. I did National Tours of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and LES MISERABLES. I did ensemble parts in both these shows and was hired because of my soprano – all that imitating of Julie Andrews, Kathryn Grayson, and Shirley Jones paid off at the time! I would love to play Christine in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Tell me about something unusual, or funny that’s happened to you on stage, something unexpected.
So many things – at the Dallas Theatre Center, my underskirt came loose and I had to hoist it up all the way through my big number, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” I was a Shark in a high school production of WEST SIDE STORY and was really in character backing offstage “very cool.” I turned and smashed right into a wall!
What are some other roles have you enjoyed?
I enjoyed debuting on Broadway in JELLY’S LAST JAM as Maman, starring Gregory Hines and directed by George C. Wolfe. Although that role ended up being cut from the show, JELLY’S LAST JAM was the experience of a lifetime. Playing Carrie in the critically acclaimed national tour of CAROUSEL (directed by Nicholas Hytner) was fun. I got to portray opera legend Marian Anderson in an Off Broadway revival of Michael John LaChiusa’s FIRST LADY SUITE. I laughed a lot doing MASTER CLASS (Sharon) with Rita Moreno and Donna Lynne Champlin at Berkeley Rep, which was directed by Moises Kaufman. Thank GOD for laughter!!!!
Is there a “dream” role that you would like to play?
Liu in TURANDOT
You’ve worked with some great directors – what is the best directorial advice you’ve ever received?
I remember bits from various directors:
George C. Wolfe: Try to find sanity in your work. A lot of things will go on which have nothing to do with the work. Stay true and focused on the work.
Nicholas Hytner: I had great moments with him. It was tough but he is good – he truly bashed into my head “less is more.” He also let me explore & make a fool of myself!
Graciela Daniele: She is very loving, patient, all knowing and very strong. She encouraged me to drop the hard edge, the anger and become the character through love. Marie Christine for me is my best most realized performance to date.
Moises Kaufman: He told me to own my power. “Do you know how powerful you are?” he said. Rita Moreno also encouraged me to always move forward, never sideways.
Mel Marvin: As a director he encouraged me to “trust the actors, they know more than you think.” He said there comes a time when a director needs to let go.
Jack Cummings (Transport Group) Jack and I both attended William & Mary. He is an “Anything is Possible” sort of person, like me. I remember him saying “You can do it!”
Victoria Santa Cruz: I would not be here if not for her. She was my Professor at Carnegie Mellon. Some of her words were: “Face your fear,” “You with You,” “Don’t mask your pain,” and “Be There.” She is my sister, my life mentor – a true gift.
Some actors of color don’t have faith that their talent will be fairly and impartially judged at auditions and that they will never be cast non-traditionally. How have you maintained your faith in the process to win these parts? Do you have any advice you might wish to give to another actor of color who faces these challenges?
To my brothers and sisters of color: All I can say is that my love of singing and of acting greatly outweighs the outcome of any audition. This love is a blessing and a gift to me – and it is ALL POWERFUL. This is not to say I do not have dark days and disappointments – I have had many – and there will be more. But I always come out with a joke and laugh. I read this article where Goldie Hawn (who is one of my favorites) said something like: “It doesn’t help me to stay sad, angry or down too long. It takes a lot of energy to maintain that…and what for?” I know deep in my core that the heart has no color (every true, searching artist knows this), and it is my calling and my responsibility to walk into any audition and share and open my heart, even if it’s just for that moment. I must also be the Captain/Goddess of my destiny and create that which I see lacking: I must create, direct and produce stories which reflect a multi-cultural landscape and beyond. Stories which celebrate the experience, humor and truth of myself and my ancestors (all of whom are many different colors and from all walks of life) I know that as an artist I get to explore the infinite in ALL I DO. This is why I started Opera at Home – so I and other artists can sing with different people and do all sorts of repertoire. The humanity is the thing.
Go to the auditions – You HAVE TO SHOW UP. The power is in SHOWING UP, TAKING ACTION, PREPARING TIRELESSLY, not in the outcome, or in how others may or may not see you. I control my level of artistry, expertise, focus, preparation - not the casting directors, directors, etc. Prepare, show up and have fun in your power!