Multitalented Christopher Sieber wants to hear boos on Broadway
This image released by Boneau/Bryan-Brown shows Christopher Sieber as Miss Trunchbull in 'Matilda the Musical.' (AP Photo/Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Joan Marcus)
Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, May 8, 2014 8:14AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 8, 2014 8:23AM EDT
NEW YORK -- When you suddenly need a Broadway leading man, who can you call? What about if you have to have someone at a moment's notice to do demanding physical comedy?
It turns out that, at 6-foot-3 and with both matinee idol looks and an ability to absorb a script quickly, Christopher Sieber is a go-to for theatre producers, his phone number a must-have.
Sieber has jumped into some big musicals with only a few days' notice. With him, you're guaranteed the show will go on -- even if he's sucking down oxygen backstage.
"A day and I'm off-book. I'm ready to go," he says. "I'm that fast. I'm crazy."
The two-time Tony nominee and "Spamalot" star jumped into "La Cage aux Folles" in 2011 as Georges when Jeffrey Tambor withdrew. When the show went on tour, he switched to playing Albin and his high-kicking onstage drag persona, Zaza.
In "Shrek the Musical" as Lord Farquaad, Sieber spent nearly two years on his knees with a set of puppet legs in front of him. "I only do shows that apparently hurt me," he says.
So when two big, complicated Broadway shows needed someone quickly this spring, they turned to Sieber. He replaced Terrence Mann in "Pippin" without an audition or even having seen the show.
"They were like, 'So can you juggle?' I was like, 'No!' They were like, 'Can you ride a unicycle?' I was like, 'Ha, ha, no!' They asked me 'Can you throw knives?' I was like, 'I will learn.' And I did."
Now he has stepped in as the new child-hurling Miss Trunchbull in "Matilda the Musical." He wears a fat-suit with a vest underneath packed with frozen gel to keep him cool. He leaps and jumps on a trampoline. In other words, it's a perfect Sieber role.
At one point last week, Sieber had to pinch himself: The stage manager at "Matilda" asked him what his show schedule was like at "Pippin" so they could work rehearsals around it.
As a kid growing up in Minnesota, he dreamed of one day just getting on Broadway. Now he had two at the same time. "This never happens! How fabulous was that?"
Sieber did suffer a bit of a setback. While rehearsing "Matilda" in a gym, he broke his hand on a vault, delaying his opening. Desperate to heal quicker, he went to Chinatown and got an herbal bone-knitting formula. "It comes in these little bonbons and it tastes a little like bile. It's horrible," he says. "Three weeks later, I went to the doctor and he said, 'You're healed."'
Sieber took time before a recent safety check at the Shubert Theatre to talk about his skills, the role that made him pass out and his take on Miss Trunchbull.
AP: You've gotten quite a reputation as the guy to call when someone needs a multitalented performer immediately.
Sieber: It's a good and bad thing. It's a great thing because people are like, 'Oh, you know who can go really quickly and do it really well? Christopher Sieber.' But the other side is, 'Oh my God! I have to go in a show in four or five days?' It's a good reputation to have but it also gets dangerous.
AP: What is it like to go into shows so quickly?
Sieber: You don't have time to cry. You don't have time to think about anything. You just have to make sure you're out of the way of other people. I don't want to be that guy who inconveniences everybody and is the pain in the butt.
AP: Was that your most demanding show?
Sieber: As far as the most dangerous show, and most exhausting show, and most physically demanding show? Playing Albin and Zaza in 'La Cage Aux Folles' is quite possibly the most difficult part I've ever played. It's 3 1/2 hours of nonstop.
AP: How bad did it get?
Sieber: A year into it, I actually asked the producers, 'Give me bottles of oxygen.' I was so exhausted my body wasn't able to handle it. I passed out twice in Dallas. I was singing 'I Am What I Am' at the top of my lungs when I passed out onstage. I had to get in an ambulance.
AP: Wow. Are you sure you want to keep doing this?
Sieber: I can't stop! I'm the guy! It's like, 'Get him! He'll hurt himself.' But you know what? Comedy hurts sometime.
AP: Is your Miss Trunchbull going to be different?
Sieber: Yes, I think it is. I think I'm scarier than any of the other Trunchbulls because I'm not playing this for laughs at all. I could take this part a whole other way. But I think it's much more interesting to make her scary. She's a horrible person. Let's make her horrible.
AP: Is it fun being that mean?
Sieber: So much fun. When I go up the aisles, I see the audience lean away from me, like, 'Don't touch me!' I love it! They're like, 'You're horrible!' I'm like, 'Thank you!' One day when I come out for my curtain call and the entire audience boos, then I've made it.