Two-time Tony nominee Christopher Sieber (Shrek, Spamalot) was set to return for his third engagement in the long-running revival of Chicago earlier this year, but an exciting change-up landed the actor with a different gig instead. Weeks before his planned start date, Chicago’s producers asked Sieber to take over as Georges in La Cage aux Folles when Jeffrey Tambor abruptly departed the production. Now that La Cage has closed, Sieber is fulfilling his planned Chicago duties, stepping back into the perfectly polished shoes of slick lawyer Billy Flynn. Broadway.com caught up with the actor to chat about smooching Harvey Fierstein in La Cage, how he recently became an ordained minister for his friends’ wedding and some rocking plans for his own possible nuptials.
When you go back into a show like Chicago for the third time, what's your strategy? Do you try to switch things up?
It’s been a little over six years since I did Chicago last, so going back was a little jarring at first. You think you remember everything, but you don’t. You look at the script and think, “I don’t remember any of this!” I’ve done a bunch of shows in between, but it’s always nice to come back here. And it’s kind of nice to forget what you did, because now I can kind of reinvent Billy.
What’s your take on this iconic character?
I play Billy as an intense, no-nonsense kind of guy. He’s very much in control at all times. It’s true what he says: The whole world is a circus, it's all show business, so because he knows that, nothing bothers him. He’s always just on it and that’s why he’s so successful.
You’re reunited with your former Roxie, Charlotte d’Amboise. Did you plan that?
This is our third time together! I think it was just a roll of a dice thing. She’s so generous and terrifically brilliant. She told me the other day, “You are so good at setting me up.” And I was like, “I’m not doing anything. You’re the one helping me!” So it’s a mutual admiration society.
And newcomer Nikka Graff Lanzarone joins the cast this week as Velma.
She’s going to be amazing. She’s a Chicago virgin! I saw her in Women on the Verge [as Justin Guarini's fiancee] and I thought she was terrific in it. I was like “Who is this girl? I love her!” She was starting her rehearsal process around the same time as mine, so I got to know her and she is so funny.
Have you ever had to seek the advice of a lawyer yourself?
The only reason I’ve really had to go is for real estate.
How is life on your private island [in the middle of a New Jersey lake] these days?
It’s really awesome. [Sieber's partner, former actor Kevin Burrows] is crazy gardening right now so the place looks like a park. With the show schedule, it’s hard to get out there, but we had a big July 4 shindig. It’s a heavenly place. I wish we could use it year-round. We’re so lucky that we found it. It’s like an adult treehouse. You walk in and you’re like, “This is aaaaawesome!”
Now that gay marriage has been legalized in New York, do you and Kevin plan to tie the knot?
What a gift to New York! The night the vote passed, I was at the theater. We were literally doing the courtroom scene and after everyone leaves the stage, our stage manager shouted, “It passed! It passed!” and there were big, loud screams backstage. It was right as Roxie was singing her end song “Nowadays.” I don’t know if the audience noticed, but Charlotte definitely did. I think we will [marry], but I’m not sure when. We’ve already committed to each other, we have rings, but you know, hey, let’s get some benefits! Those are things everyone should have. I can’t wait until August to see the New York City and state county clerk…they’re going to be busy. There are millions of gay folk that want to get married. I was thinking of maybe filming a documentary on it. It’d be cool to follow a few couples.
Do you want to have a big wedding? Kevin is even a caterer!
I want Bon Jovi to come! [Laughs.] I don’t know, we haven’t discussed that, but it’ll be fun. I’m even an ordained minister now.
Really? How did that happen?
I went online. It’s the easiest thing! People talk about the sanctity of marriage, but to be a clergy you just have to enter your name, date of birth and e-mail address. You can do it in 30 seconds. I went to Los Angeles to marry my friends Denny Paschall, a former Chicago cast member, and Haven Burton. We’ve all done shows together and they said that I’m their oldest friend they’ve known as a couple, so they asked if I’d marry them.
How’d you do with your minister duties?
I’m just glad I didn’t cry. I got this book that was like Weddings for Dummies. They said they wanted to have a party with a wedding interrupting it. The whole ceremony was four minutes and 53 seconds. My friend timed it. I called it the drive-by wedding.
Speaking of gay marriages, you got to call Harvey Fierstein your hubby earlier this spring when you put Chicago on hold to go into La Cage aux Folles.
That was such a funny story. I had talked to Chicago’s general manager and said, “You know, I’m not doing anything right now. If you need a Billy, I’m around.” So I’m at the Ambassador Theater to see Chicago to refresh my memory and all that. I get a phone call, while I’m literally at the box office, frantically saying, “You’re not going to Chicago tonight, you’re going to see La Cage aux Folles. There’s tickets waiting for you and Harvey wants to see you afterwards.” So I see the show, which I’d never seen in my life, and it’s delightful! I went backstage to see Harvey and he closes the door and says [imitating Harvey’s trademark voice] “Are you going to do it?” I asked “Do what?” He tells me they’re going to offer me the part of Georges. We had such a quick turnaround. I only had seven days of rehearsal and then went into the show. I had a lot of material to put in my head, but I did it.
Was it stressful stepping into the production so quickly?
The good thing was it was such a quick turnaround that I didn’t have time to cry and think “I’m going to fail.” I could only concentrate on the show. There was no room for doubts. Although when the producers would come into my dressing room during rehearsals saying, “Thank you for saving my show!” you’re thinking, “Yeah, um, no pressure!” The only time I cried was when the reviews came out. The [critics] loved Harvey and me and they loved the show. They were practically love letters!
What was it like to share the stage with Harvey?
It rarely happens where you have someone opposite you that you love and trust so much. That’s a rare gift. He’s so much fun. He’s like a 12-year-old kid. He’s very mischievous. He would always try to get me to laugh onstage, but I don’t break. He used to give me little smirks. He even made me Jesus toast! There’s the lyric, “Think of this as masculine toast” and I look down and there’s the face of Jesus on the toast! He’d always get mad at me because I wouldn’t laugh. At the end of the show, Georges and Albin kiss and Harvey always had a lozenge in his mouth. It was around Easter time and there were a lot of jelly beans around, so it was always a game: Guess what flavor Harvey is.
So what does Harvey Fierstein taste like?
Watermelon and sour apple!
See Christopher Sieber in Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre.