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A chat with Chris Sieber, star of ‘La Cage aux Folles’
by Marene Gustin
Photos by Paul Kolnik
Actor Christopher Sieber is looking forward to returning to Houston—or maybe visiting for the first time.
“I was in Houston, like, 20 years ago,” he says. “But I don’t remember what show or where. Are there fountains in front of the opera house?” Then, after a pause: “No, I’ve never been there, let’s just say that. But I hear it’s lovely.”
You can forgive Sieber for not remembering every town and road show he’s been in. His career spans two decades of acting onstage, in television, and in films. He’s been nominated for Tony Awards for his work in Shrek, The Musical and Monty Python’s Spamalot. Other Broadway credits include Chicago, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Into the Woods, and Beauty and the Beast.
He’s now touring in La Cage aux Folles, which arrives in Houston at Theatre Under the Stars’s Hobby Center this month.
The musical tale of a Saint-Tropez nightclub owner and his partner/drag queen star, who try to impress their son’s fiancée and her conservative parents, is a touching and hilarious production that’s won rave reviews and awards. La Cage is the first Broadway show to win Tony Awards for best production three times: in its original form in 1984 and in both revivals in 2005 and 2010. The musical and lyrics are by Jerry Herman and the book is by Harvey Fierstein, who performed the role of Albin/Zaza, the lovable partner of nightclub owner Georges and flamboyant star of the drag revue.
“I played Georges in that production,” says Sieber. “Opposite Harvey Fierstein’s Albin. To work with the author doing the character he wrote was invaluable.
“Albin is the more fun character to play, but I like Georges because he is the driving force behind the show.”
In the national tour, Sieber plays opposite the legendary (always dapper, always tan) George Hamilton as Georges. “He is just so sweet and charming,” says Sieber. “He just oozes charm and he uses every bit of it on stage. Of course he’s 72 [Sieber is 43] so his energy is a lot different than mine.”
“It’s a challenging role for me,” Hamilton says. “In many ways, I’m envious of Chris Sieber playing Zaza because Albin is such a fabulous, flamboyant character. It’s seductive to want to be the farceur. Chris is so good in this. He gets bored with doing the usual, so he will change things around. My job is to be organically anchored to this. I’ve got to direct traffic through this whole story.”
Sieber says it took a while for Hamilton to remember all his lines, which Hamilton readily admits. “Initially, I would hear him say things and I’d wonder, ‘What is he mumbling?’” says Hamilton. “But then I’d realize he was giving me my lines!”
The two have become fast friends as the show crisscrosses the country to standing ovations and rave reviews. It’s a grueling schedule, but Sieber will be well-rested when he gets to Houston, having taken off two weeks for a belated honeymoon cruise before arriving here. He married his longtime partner, the actor/chef Kevin Burrows, last Thanksgiving in New York City.
“We met in Beauty and the Beast,” Sieber says. “I was Gaston and Kevin was the fork. He was just so adorable as a fork!” Sieber says Burrows has pretty much retired from the stage, working as a chef for a cooking party company in New York City. But that doesn’t mean Sieber has a live-in chef. “I don’t act at home and he doesn’t cook at home,” quips Sieber. “We eat out a lot.”
And while Sieber has made a reputation in theater, he’s also done some films and TV. He had a guest spot on The Good Wife last year, and you may remember him as one of the gay dads on the 2003–2004 It’s All Relative sitcom. But his first TV role was as a single straight dad to the Olsen twins in the 1998–1999 Two of a Kind.
“It was a little shocking for a 26-year-old kid from Minnesota to get cast in a show like that,” Sieber recalls. “Here I was riding a golf cart around the lot and going to ‘my’ sound stage. I really didn’t know how the whole thing worked.”
But having Mary-Kate and Ashley, who began acting at nine months of age, as co-stars certainly helped. He relates how one time the then-11-year-old Mary-Kate apologized and moved away from him. “Apparently Mary-Kate was in my ‘light.’ I didn’t even know I had a light.”
Although he says the girls were great, and he learned a lot from them, he didn’t keep up with them after the show ended.
“They were going through puberty,” he says. “It would have been…creepy. But maybe I’ll run into them some day at a party.”
Or maybe they’ll catch him in his next Tony Award-winning show on Broadway.
TUTS presents La Cage aux Folles April 24 through May 6 at The Hobby Center. For more information visit tuts.com. For tickets (starting at $24) call the box office at 713/558-TUTS (8887).
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.