American Musical theatre performer Sierra Boggess has made a career for herself in shows like Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Love Never Dies and most recently School of Rock on Broadway. Last week it was announced that she would sing at the Royal Albert Hall as part of a West Side Story concert for BBC Proms. But today she has released a statement on her Facebook page announcing her brave decision to withdraw from the production in order for a Puerto Rican actress to have the opportunity to sing the part that was written for them.
“Last week, it was announced that I will be singing in a concert of West Side Story at Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms in London. Because it was a concert presentation and not the show proper — I had signed on to lend my voice to honor Leonard Bernstein in his centennial this year, with an orchestra I have loved singing with for years, following in the long list of sopranos who have all sung the score before me.
After much reflection, I’ve realized that if I were to do this concert, it would once again deny Latinas the opportunity to sing this score, as well as deny the IMPORTANCE of seeing themselves represented onstage. And that would be a huge mistake. Since the announcement of this concert, I have had many conversations about why this is a crucial time, now more than ever, to not perpetuate the miscasting of this show. I apologize for not coming to this realization sooner and as an artist, I must ask myself how I can best serve the world, and in this case my choice is clearer than ever: to step aside and allow an opportunity to correct a wrong that has been done for years with this show in particular. I have therefore withdrawn myself from this concert and I look forward to continuing to be a voice for change in our community and our world!”
Some fans are calling in to question why Sierra hadn’t come to this conclusion before signing the contract and allowing fans to book tickets to specifically see her. One Facebook fan referenced a 2015 interview Sierra Boggess did with Broadway.com where she was asked which role she had played in her career that she didn’t feel she was right for. She chose West Side Story and went on to say “This is a dream role and I’m really glad I got to play this but I am not Puerto Rican”.
If Sierra had just declined the offer to perform at the concert, sighting that she would rather a Puerto Rican actress got to sing the role instead, the general public wouldn’t be aware of the miscasting situation she was trying to correct. Whether it was intended or not, by withdrawing from the role and publicly stating she isn’t right for the role, she has used her platform to take a stand and say that a Puerto Rican actress should be cast instead.
The issue of colourblind casting is a contentious issue in the media right now and more and more people are fighting for different cultures and ethnicities to be allowed to represent themselves on stage. Sierra’s public statement has opened the doors for another discussion on this topic which would not have happened had she just declined to perform in the show at the beginning.
Bravo Sierra. A very brave thing to do but another massive step has now been taken towards equality. It will be very interesting to see who the concert decide to hire to replace her!