How Head Over Heels Star Bonnie Milligan Landed Her Debut as a Broadway Leading Lady

Seth Rudetsky   How Head Over Heels Star Bonnie Milligan Landed Her Debut as a Broadway Leading Lady
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares how Milligan was first discovered for The Go-Go’s musical, plus stories from Christine Ebersole and Sierra Boggess.
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Tanya Haglund, Samantha Pollino, Bonnie Milligan, Ari Groover, and Amber Ardolino Joan Marcus

Yes, I’m at the Anchor Inn, but this time I’m on the balcony connected to my room! I’m in Provincetown doing two shows with Sierra Boggess and, holy cow, was it raining yesterday! Here’s a little video of us right before we entered the theatre. Yowza!

Last week I had Bonnie Milligan on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. I went to opening night of Head Over Heels and not only loved the show, but flipped out over her performance. And I’m not just saying that because she loved Disaster! and saw it three times. I’m saying it because she’s hilarious and belts so high!

I love how she sounds on this video of “Suddenly Seymour.” (And Matt Doyle is fantastic, too!)
Turns out, Bonnie didn’t start belting until college. UGH! I can’t take it. She was one of those people who would belt along with singers on the radio, like Whitney Houston, but when she sang solo, she used her “proper voice”….aka soprano head voice. There are so many amazing belters who only sang head voice and didn’t discover their belt til their 20s: Judy Kuhn, Alice Ripley, and Morgan James. Here’s Morgan showing her full Juilliard trained operatic soprano…and then her newly discovered crazy high belt! (Ending in a “Queen of the Night”-style high F!)

Bonnie studied musical theatre in college but was told by one authority figure that, because “it’s hard for big girls, you’re probably not going to work til you’re 40,” and another mentor/close friend told her “You’re probably not going to be work because Broadway doesn’t want fat, they want skinny.” That one advised Bonnie to become a playwright.

Bonnie realizes now that for the first five years of her being in NYC, she really wasn’t going for it full out. Those comments planted something in her that killed her confidence, which had been strong. Finally, after ye olde therapy, she rebuilt her confidence and realized that if she owned who she was and went into auditions celebrating what made her special, she’d get work…and maybe even be able to change minds.

For instance, she went in for Kinky Boots and wound up getting cast for the national tour as Pat, a character who hadn’t been cast as someone who looks like Bonnie. And she’s the character that gets to dance the sexy tango. Bonnie said it was great traveling the country and representing larger women. Her character got to dance a lot and had joy, and Bonnie feels she got the role because she went into the audition showing who she was, singing a song she loved to sing, radiating happiness and confidence.

When she finally started working in NYC, Bonnie did shows at the Flea Theater and Jeff Whitty (bookwriter of Avenue Q) saw her perform. Soon, she was offered a reading of Head Over Heels for the role of Pamela, the older sister. It wasn’t until she had done the readings of it a few more times and a year had passed that she found out he had written the role with her in mind! I joked and said “Really? Even though the character name is Bonnie Milligan.” And she replied “Well, it was a different middle name so I didn’t realize.” Brava on the “Yes and”! Go see her and the show. Fabulous!

Oh, yeah! I forgot to write last week about one more tidbit about Christine Ebersole. I was praising her performance on last year’s Tony Awards when she and Patti sang from War Paint. Turns out, she woke up the morning of the Tony Awards and had no voice whatsoever! Couldn’t make a sound!!! She went to the doctor who gave her some amazing medicine and, as you might remember, she wound up sounding amazing on the night of the Awards.

Of course, she was then out of the show for the next week! Watch this video and think how phenomenal medicine is that Christine sounded like this yet couldn’t make sounds that morning. Also, note that the person videotaping not only shot it sideways, but is also making non-stop noise in the background. One of the comments asks if they are making a cabinet from Ikea throughout the song! SHUT UP!

I also had a great time with Sierra Boggess in Provincetown. When she first came to New York, she was in the show called Princesses, which was supposed to go to Broadway…but didn’t. Soon, she was running out of money! She kept trying out for shows as a belter and, one day, auditioned for the Kennedy Center production of Mame for the role of Gooch whose song ends on a high soprano note. Tara Rubin casting had never heard her sing soprano and immediately asked her to come in for Les Misérables to cover Cosette. She got it… and began three days later as the Cosette understudy!

The point of this story is: A. Audition for everything because you never know where it might lead, and B. Have faith because your luck could turn around in an instant. The day she got Les Misérables , she had written that month’s rent check, which left her bank balance literally at zero! And she had the cheaper room in the apartment that had no windows! It was a walk-through so her roommate always had to walk through her room to use the bathroom. (Who was her roommate walking through that room? Future Tony award winner Lindsay Mendez!)

Sierra’s parents, and particularly her father, are obsessed with Les Miz. When she found out the date they were coming to see her in the show, she asked the stage manager if she could go on for Cosette. They agreed… and she didn’t tell her parents! So, they showed up expecting to see her as the “Hair Hag” (“What pretty hair! What lovely locks you’ve got there…”), but they saw an insert in their Playbill telling them that the role of Cosette would be played by Sierra Boggess! They flipped out!

Christine Pedi actually did the same thing…but her parents didn’t even know she was in the show! They thought she just happened to get them tickets to Chicago on Broadway…and suddenly Christine was Mama Morton! Here’s a video all about it! So fabulous!

Sierra told us that her Dad is about to embark on the Camino de Santiago walk across Spain, which takes around 35 days. He loves Les Miz so much that she and her sisters made him a book to keep him inspired full of Les Miz quotes. She joked that around day 21 of the hike the quote she put in is “What have I done? Sweet Jesus, what have I done?”

Sierra also talked about doing two Broadway shows with Tyne Daly and how she loves working with her. Before every performance, Tyne always makes sure to visit every dressing room and make eye contact with every cast member. Sierra actually has a sheet of paper she hangs in her dressing room full of “Tyne-isms,” amazing quotes Tyne said when she’s visited. Sometimes they’re deep and inspirational. Sometimes, Sierra said, they’re more functional like “We’re going onstage, girls. T*ts up!”

Sierra also told us about Andrew Lloyd Webber asking her to star in the Paris premiere of The Phantom of the Opera. The show had been translated into French for the first time…but Sierra didn’t speak French. And she was the only American. Mon dieu! She took intensive lessons via Skype and learned the whole score with an accent that she hoped wouldn’t get her kicked into the Seine. She got to Paris, the cast rehearsed up a storm, and right when tech began…the stage caught fire and burned down! The entire production was finit. When the cast found out, they were devastated. This was the biggest gig many of them had ever had. While they were out that night being depressed, realizing they would never perform the show, Sierra rallied them up and they all went to the Paris opera house and sang the big hits! No piano was available so, French-style, someone played accordion! And it was caught on video! Watch it here!

Next up, I’m doing a show her in Provincetown with Liz Callaway on Sunday night at the Art House. She has an amazing voice and we always have sassy sparring repartee. As Liz says, “Seth is like the brother I never wanted.”

Christine, Sierra, and Liz have all been special guest performers on Playbill's Broadway on the High Seas cruises. Cabins are now on sale for Playbill’s Broadway on the Rhône River 2 cruise April 7–14, 2019, featuring Melissa Errico, Rebecca Luker, Marc Kudisch, and Seth Rudetsky, and Broadway in Bordeaux With Michael Feinstein September 1–9, 2019, with other celebrity guests to be announced! Call Playbill Travel for tickets at 866-455-6789 or visit PlaybillTravel.com.

Here is Liz’s Obsessed! video. Enjoy and peace out!

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