Christopher Sieber had to consider the pros and cons: Should he make a 42-week commitment to play opposite George Hamilton in the national touring production of “La Cage aux Folles?” Evidently the 42-year-old Minneapolis native and two-time Tony Award nominee couldn’t think of a good reason not to.
“Ultimately, it sounded like a great adventure,” said Sieber, who was Georges in the Broadway production of “La Cage” but is playing Albin in the touring show, opening Wednesday at Proctors and running through the following Sunday, Oct. 30. “I did have to think about it. But I hadn’t been on the road for 20 years, so I decided I would have a good time and go see the country again. It sounded like a lot of fun.”
The show, based on the 1973 French play of the same name, tells the story of a nightclub owner named Georges and his partner Albin, who along with being Georges’ lover is also the club’s star attraction, a drag performer who goes by the name of Zaza. Harvey Fierstein (book) and Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) turned the play into a musical and put it on Broadway in 1983, winning six of the 10 Tonys for which it was nominated. It enjoyed two successful revivals on Broadway, the second one just last year with Fierstein playing Albin opposite Jeffrey Tambor’s Georges before Tambor was replaced by Sieber.
“Jeff had a hip replacement so he just wasn’t able to continue,” said Sieber, whose two Tony nominations come from earlier performances in “Shrek The Musical” and “Spamalot.”
“I thought I was getting ready to do ‘Chicago,’ but my agent called me and told me to go see ‘La Cage.’ I went because a friend of mine, Chris Hoch, was Jeffrey’s understudy, and after the show I went backstage and Harvey kind of surprised me. He said, ‘Well, are you going to do it? Play opposite me?’ He told me they were about to offer it to me so I said, ‘Yes.’ Literally, a week later I was in the show.”
But that gig was for Georges. For the national tour he gets the opportunity to play the more flamboyant Albin.
“Harvey asked me just the other day, ‘Which character do you like the best?’ ” said Sieber. “I have to be honest, I think I love them both the same. Both parts are so rich, so well-written, and I’m probably the only actor in the history of this production who has done both parts. There’s so much comedy and emotion in the show. The characters make you laugh hysterically, and then make you cry. It’s so much fun playing either one.”
Sieber may not be as recognizable as Hamilton, his co-star in “La Cage aux Folles,” but if you’ve watched any television in the past 10 years or so, you’ve seen him. He played Kevin Burke, the father of the Olsen twins, in the 1999 series, “Two of a Kind,” and was also a regular in the 2003 ABC series, “It’s All Relative,” and has had guest-starring roles in “Sex and the City,” “Pushing Daisies,” and “The Good Wife.”
As for sharing the stage and traveling with Hamilton, the experience has been a wonderful one, according to Sieber.
“George is a lovely man, and very self-deprecating,” Sieber said of Hamilton. “He doesn’t have a diva bone in his body. People ask me if he’s really that tanned? I tell them it’s not a tan, that’s his color. We’ve been having a great time, on and off the stage. He’s a great guy.”
The tour performed a preview in Des Moines and then began its run earlier this week in Minneapolis. Sieber grew up in Minnesota’s other twin city, St. Paul, where he started performing at an early age.
“Heck, they couldn’t shut me up,” he said of his desire to perform. “I used to listen to Barry Manilow and sing right along with him. I drove my parents crazy, but they said I was a gifted child, so they shipped me off to Minneapolis and I started taking special classes. They made us read all the old classic novels, but we also got to act, and that was the fun part. I was able to turn being a class clown into a career.”
After graduating from Forest Lake High School, he headed for New York, where he studied at the American Music and Dramatic Academy. His first big breakout role came in 1994 when he played Gaston in the Broadway production of “Beauty and the Beast.” Two years later he was playing Billy Flynn in “Chicago” on Broadway, and he followed that performance with parts in “Triumph of Love,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Into the Woods.” In 2007 he was playing Sir Dennis Galahad in “Spamalot,” and from December 2008 until January 2010 he played Lord Farquaad in “Shrek The Musical.”
While he enjoys working in television and film, he said nothing beats a stage show.
“I like theater a lot because of that immediate gratification,” he said. “You get to command the audience to think and to feel, and that’s really cool. TV depends on the kind of show. If you have three or four cameras and there is a live audience, that’s great. But if not, it’s not that much fun, and working on a film can be very tedious.”
Sieber, who shares a home with his partner, chef/actor Kevin Burrows, said he would like to try his hand at directing soon.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but I really would like to direct,” he said. “I think I have a good eye for things, a good instinct. It’s something I see myself doing eventually.”
By the time Sieber was born in 1969, Hamilton was already a familiar face to show business fans, guest-starring in several television shows as well as landing the lead roles in movies such as “Where the Boys Are” (1960) and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” (1964), in which he played country and western singer Hank Williams. He won a Golden Globe as “Best Newcomer” in 1960, and earned two more Globe nominations in 1979 with “Love at First Bite” and in 1981 with “Zorro, The Gay Blade.”
While Hamilton’s good looks and debonair style catapulted him to stardom on the silver screen, his stage experience is limited. His only Broadway credential came in 2001, when he played Billy Flynn in “Chicago” for two months.
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