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Christopher Sieber as chanteuse Zaza in "La Cage Aux Folles." Photo: Paul Kolnik
By Bridgette M. Redman
Posted: Sept. 20, 2012 at 7:35 a.m.
DETROIT – Christopher Sieber isn't about to follow the advice he's gotten from several New York doctors and physical therapists.
Their advice: Stop doing what you're doing.
It's exhausting. It's bad for health. It contorts his body in ways the body wasn't meant to contort.
But it's a living, and one that the 43-year-old Sieber has been immensely successful at, earning himself a reputation as an entertainer who is funny and who will "do weird things with his body."
"I only do parts that hurt me," he joked, saying that as much as he loves "La Cage Aux Folles," he's grateful that there is only one more stop after Detroit, after which he'll be able to return home from the road and a role that has been vocally, emotionally and physically exhausting.
This isn't the first time a role has placed such demands on Sieber. He earned a Tony nominee for his work in "Shrek: The Musical," creating the role of Lord Farquaad. While rehearsing and workshopping the show, there were all sorts of discussions about how to make Farquaad short – whether they'd make a trench in the stage or constantly hide him behind set pieces. Then Sieber hit upon the idea that made the stage role famous.
"We're on our knees, and it's my fault," Sieber said of the part that he and now several other actors have played on Broadway and on tour. "I came in one day with little legs attached like Charlie Chaplain and it killed. It was the funniest thing in the world. It is totally my fault that I created this thing and anyone else doing it – now they're screwed."
Now he's on the road with the revival of "La Cage Aux Folles," starring opposite George Hamilton. He plays Albin, a man who moonlights as the glamorous chanteuse Zaza and is partnered with the Saint-Tropez nightclub owner, Georges.
It's a show he's been doing since March 2011 when he first joined the Broadway production as Georges playing opposite Harvey Fierstein. It's a role he fell into while on his way to accept a two-month stint as Billy Flynn in "Chicago." He'd done "Chicago" seven years earlier and was in line at the box office to go see the show as a way to refamiliarize himself with the part before performing it again.
"I get a call from my agent saying, ‘You're going to go see 'La Cage' across the street," Sieber said. "I replied that that's a funny way to prepare myself for a role – by seeing a show I'm not going to do, but I did it."
After the show, he went backstage to visit with Fierstein and noted that Jeffrey Tambor, the actor who was supposed to be playing the role was nowhere to be seen. It turns out that he had to leave the show after only 10 performances because of hip problems.
"I go to Harvey's dressing room and he says, ‘Are you going to do this show? I need you, I need you, I need you,'" Sieber said. "I said sure, but I'm supposed to do 'Chicago.'"
Fierstein assured him that the two shows had the same producer and that there would be no problem with him switching. Seven days later, Sieber was on as the lead and would finish out the Broadway run. When it got ready to go on tour, Sieber said he'd go if Fierstein did. While Fierstein backed out, the producers managed to convince him to stay and to switch roles by enticing him with the opportunity to star opposite Hamilton.
"I never expected to be in the show, it all just fell on me like a ton of bricks," Sieber said. "So now I'm here and we're almost done."
It's a show he says audiences have warmly received because while the characters and setting are very gay, the story itself is universal.
"It isn't a political show," Sieber said. "It's about how you have to be true to yourself, and it is about family and about love. It happens to be that this family happens to be gay. It really is just a story. It really doesn't matter whether they are straight or gay."
As a gay actor who married his lover last Thanksgiving, he understands intimately that gay relationships can get politicized, though he finds that everyday people are less likely to do so than those in the public eye.
"Going around the country, you get this trepidation of ‘what are we getting into?'" Sieber said. "All the people are amazing. I've talked to a lot of people and gotten to know them very well. The people are pretty cool. It's the talking heads on FOX and MSNBC and the politicians trying to get votes. They say all this garbage. The people I talk to aren't terrible. They're all great people."
He does say that he's tired of the talking heads turning his relationship into a political football and has utter disdain for the idea that someone's marriage is going to threaten America and traditional marriage.
"I married my husband on Thanksgiving. We did it to bring down the fabric of this nation," he joked. "Our marriage was meant to destroy everything. Our diabolical plan has not worked, but we keep trying every day with our love and commitment to bring down this nation. I guess our love is not doing the right thing. It's so bizarre."
He does say that while it's new for him, he introduces Kevin Burrows, a fellow actor and chef, as his husband because it's real, it's true.
"We need to do that. We need to say it every single time. It needs to be heard. Then it becomes more commonplace."
In addition to the fantastic stories that Hamilton can tell about his lengthy acting career and such things as dining with kings and queens, Sieber cites another advantage to touring with him: Because Hamilton is 73, the show scheduled several weeks off, which has allowed Sieber to spend time with his new husband.
"We've had lots of wonderful layoffs," Sieber said. "The longest we've gone was 16 weeks without a break, but we had four or five weeks off in a row. Plus, then I was able to fly Kevin out to Las Vegas. We see each other quite often and get face time on the iPad."
The road has been exhausting, however, and Sieber said he lack of open restaurants in downtown areas at dinner time has been a great weight loss program for him.
"We're always foraging for food. We come off the plane and we're starving," Sieber said. "The theaters are downtown, but since the '60s and '70s everyone has left downtown. The restaurants are open for breakfast and lunch. After 5 p.m. you're screwed if you don't have food, and the nearest grocery store might be 15 miles away. It is so bizarre."
So he'll spend two weeks in Detroit, move on to Toronto and then take a long-desired break before jumping into his next project.
SHOW DETAILS: "La Cage Aux Folles" plays at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, Tuesday-Sunday, Sept. 25-Oct. 7. Tickets: $40-$80 (includes parking and facility fees). For information: 313-872-1000 or www.broadwayindetroit.com.
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