Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Reel Thoughts Interview: From a Different Angle

Broadway has proven much more welcoming to GLBT actors than Hollywood, and one example is Christopher Sieber. The tall, handsome actor has had success in television, playing father to the Olsen Twins in Two of a Kind and one half of a high-profile but short-lived gay couple in It’s All Relative, but his real successes have come on Broadway. The 6’2” Minneapolis native has entertained audiences playing Sir Galahad in Monty Python’s Spamalot (for which he was nominated for a Tony Award), the tiny Lord Farquaad in Shrek the Musical (another Tony Nomination), Trevor Graydon in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and Billy Flynn in Chicago. His latest Broadway appearance was replacing an ailing Jeffrey Tambor as Georges in La Cage aux Folles opposite none other than the writer himself, Harvey Fierstein.

In the show, the two play the Emcee and star attraction of a seedy San Tropez drag bar who have been partners for over twenty years and have raised a son together. Their lives are thrown for a loop when their son Jean Michel announces that he is getting married to the daughter of a rabidly anti-gay politician. If that wasn’t bad enough, the ungrateful boy wants his dad to de-gay the house and invite both the in-laws-to-be and his biological mother to dinner, leaving Zaza in the cold. This sets up the most awkward dinner party imaginable, especially when Zaza “saves the day” by appearing suddenly as Jean Michel’s “Maman.” Offering running commentary is Jacob, their maid/butler and a bevy of dangerous Cagelles, the performers from the club. From the show comes the classic GLBT anthem “I Am What I Am”, “The Best of Times” and the title number.

Now that La Cage has closed on Broadway and gone on national tour, Sieber has been busy donning wigs, mascara and gowns to play Fierstein’s role opposite none other than George Hamilton as Georges. The debonair and permanently tanned Hamilton is thirty years older than Sieber, giving their relationship extra poignancy. I spoke with Sieber, who was very funny and down-to-earth, about how life is on the road with Hamilton in La Cage. “I’m seven foot eight in hair and heels,” Sieber laughed. “Even my dad said, “You know, Chris, you’re not an attractive woman.” I told him, “Yeah, Dad, I know. It’s okay.”


Not every actor gets to play both halves of a couple, and Sieber was grateful for the opportunity to play Georges first. “Thank goodness that I had that experience, because now I know the ins and outs of the part playing opposite Harvey, the guy who wrote it. I never expected to play Albin, it just sort of happened. It’s kind of strange that I’m doing it, but playing opposite Harvey was pretty cool."


Sieber has nothing but praise for his famous co-star. He said that Hamilton was open and admitted when he was having challenges learning his lines at first. “He is absolutely the loveliest guy. He’s so generous, he’s so sweet. He doesn’t have a diva bone in his body. He really works his butt off because he wants to be good. And the stories that he tells! He’s been with every starlet and every star in Hollywood and he knows them personally, so when you hear these old Hollywood stories, you just ask George what really happened and he’ll tell you. He was there! He’d talk about Judy Garland and he was with (President) L.B.J. for a while and dated his daughter. It’s amazing t he amount of drinking that went on in old Hollywood…”


Well-known ladies’ man Hamilton had no trouble playing gay, Sieber said. “He had a gay brother, so he was very cool with it right off. I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but the first time we kissed, we had never rehearsed it, we just looked at each other like, “This is happening,” and we did it,” he said, laughing. “And of course, he went off to the side a little because he barely knew me, but now it’s just full-on kissing. He doesn’t really care what people think of him, because he’s so charming, he’ll win you over anyway. We’ve developed a really great working relationship but also a personal relationship. He trusts me completely, and he really has to,” Sieber explained.

“This production is very intimate,” Sieber said. “Our director, Terry Johnson, wanted it to be like a club where you would go. Everything is very close. In the original, the gag was “which one’s a man, which one’s a woman?” We don’t have that. We’re a drag club. There are no women Cagelles. There’s a line that we’re bawdy but we’re also rather grand. Ours is kind of gritty. La Cage aux Folles has been around a while, which is like Georges and Albin’s life. We’ve been together twenty years and we built this life together, probably the only life we ever could have had, being gay people in that time period. We’ve carved out this beautiful, wonderful life together.”


“What makes me laugh is when Georges introduces the Cagelles, he’s showcasing the talent, but the talent he’s showcasing is terrible. Chantal can hit a note, but she really doesn’t do anything. Hannah from Hamburg has a skill with a whip, but Phaedra, the Enigma, literally has no talent. The only thing she does is flick her tongue. That’s her talent,” he said laughing. Of course, the buff and agile actors playing the Cagelles have nothing but talent, and if you are lucky enough to sit at the onstage cabaret tables, they will put their talents right in your face.

“There is so much heart. It’s such a great story. Ultimately, it’s about a family. It doesn’t matter who you love, just that you love. With today’s political climate, where they’re making us gays and lesbians footballs to kick around and say we’re evil... Santorum can kiss my f-in’ ass, but even someone like Rick Santorum, if he came to see our show, it might, possibly, change their mind. The message is so strong, and people leap to their feet at the end. Even the hardest of theater-goers, who were probably dragged their by their wives, probably didn’t want to be there because they thought it was going to be “a bunch of fruity guys leaping around in skirts”, they are leaping to their feet and clapping and cheering because they got it.”


Zaza’s beauty secret is Dermablend make-up, developed to cover up scars. “I’m not hairy by any means, but every guy gets a five o’clock shadow. This stuff Dermablend just takes it away. After eight shows a week, it takes its toll on me, with the corset and the lipstick. My face is okay... I moisturize like crazy because I’m a good gay boy. I have some great shoes... I have nine different pairs and half of them are heels. It’s up-and-down, up-and-down, up-and-down.”

Sieber came out publically while promoting ABC’s sadly short-lived comedy It’s All Relative, where he and John Benjamin Hickey played parents of a girl who begins dating a boy with conservative Irish-American parents. “I thought I’d nip it in the bud and get it out there, since I knew it was going to be a high-profile show on ABC. I’ve known I was gay since fourth grade. If you make a big deal out of it, it will be a big deal. If you don’t, it won’t.”

The La Cage aux Folles tour will play Tempe's Gammage Auditorium starting tonight and running through May 20th. For tickets, future tour dates and locations and more information, see the tour's official website.

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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