Christopher Sieber understands the importance of being out and proud
Broadway Bares. “As in ‘bare naked,’” said Christopher Sieber. “For one hour, on stage, guys and girls, at the Roseland Ballroom — a very large place.”
It isn’t exactly what Kander & Ebb had in mind when they wrote “Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle/Razzle dazzle ‘em./Give ‘em an act with lots of flash in it . . .”
. . or, for that matter, when Billy Flynn, that cynical big-time legal-eagle and ladies’ man sings it. But there Christopher Sieber was, naked as the day he was born, giving his all in “Broadway Bares,” an annual all-star fund-raiser of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
“They raise a half-million in one night. I’m a volunteer for everything they’ve done and whatever they need,” says Sieber. “If I have to take my clothes off, I will — and have done, for three years now.”
Billy Flynn has been played, over the decades, by the likes of Edward Ellis (in “Chicago,” the play, 1926); Adolph Menjou (in “Roxie Hart,” the movie, 1942); Jerry Orbach (in “Chicago,” the Broadway musical, 1975); James Naughton (reprised Broadway musical, 1996); and Richard Geer (in “Chicago,” the movie, 2002).
At the moment, and through May 2, at the Ambassador Theatre, where he’s got his feet aloft in his dressing room up many flights of stairs, the large and personable Chris Sieber is playing Billy Flynn.
Played and sung. Sieber is what’s called a bari/tenor. Can sing high, can sing low. “Probably because I screamed a lot when I was a kid.”
That was in Wyoming (yes, Wyoming), Minnesota, pop. 642 at the time, 35 miles north of the Twin Cities. “Very north,” says Sieber, sounding a little like Noel Coward. “Very cold.”
His dad is Fred Sieber, an engineer. His mom is Caron Bloomquist, a Church of God minister. “Very nice people, great people,” says their son. “They have their views, and I respect that. It’s sort of live and let live. I think they love Kevin.”
Kevin is actor Kevin Burrows, Sieber’s other half these past three years. They met in “Beauty and the Beast”—“Kevin was in the ensemble, I was Gaston, the evil villain” — and live together up near Columbia University.
The year that “Broadway Bares” adopted a comic-strip theme, Chris and Kevin came on as Batman and Robin. “Maybe you saw Kevin in ‘The Full Monty.’”
So he had some practice stripping?
It was Deb Bendix, an English teacher at Forest Lake High School, who once advised young Christopher: “Be afraid — of everything. But don’t let it stop you.”
He’s lived by that ever since.
“The minute I graduated high school, I got on a plane for New York.” It was October 3, 1988 — he knows the date by heart — and he was 19.
“There were opportunities in Minnesota, including of course the Guthrie Theater, but I wanted to shoot a little bit higher. I wanted New York theaters, Broadway, television.”
After two years at AMDA, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, then in the old Ansonia building, Broadway and 73rd, he landed his first job, a part in “Singin’ in the Rain” in Hilton Head, South Carolina. “At $200 a week — so much money to me.”
Since then, the credits have piled up. “Chicago” is his sixth Broadway show. “I’ve been around,” Sieber says, only half jestingly. “Technically, my first Broadway show was a ‘Paper Moon’ that never made it to Broadway, but the first real one was ‘Triumph of Love,” at the Royale, with Betty Buckley. I was Agis, a young prince. She was Hessione, my maiden aunt and protector. That was cool.”
Deb Bendix, English teacher, came from Minnesota to see the show.
Eight years ago, Sieber sat and watched a dress rehearsal of “Chicago” with its original cast of Joel Grey, James Naughton & Co. “I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen, and I’d been in a ‘Pal Joey’ with Patti Lupone.”
Well, Kander & Ebb aren’t bad. On the other hand, Rodgers & Hart aren’t bad either.
“Exactly,” Billy Flynn says, letting his legs down to hit the floor.
Any thoughts about the president and gay marriage and the Constitution, Mr. Sieber?
“Let me see.” Thinks. “The only thing I can think of — the thing that bothers me — is how they keep coming up with: ‘What if we allow this, and then . . .’ And then what? Have 16 husbands and 32 wives? Want to marry animals? What are they afraid of, really?”
It was Deb Bendix’s words that stood him in good stead when he signed for the part of Simon Banks on television’s “It’s All Relative” hit sitcom.
“I play this guy who, with his partner [portrayed by John Benjamin Hickey], raise their daughter [Maggie Lawson], she’s in college now. I thought it was important for people to have someone to look up to. If some kid out there in the Midwest — some kid like me — out there all alone, sees someone like me making it on television . . .”
One wondered whether that kid Christopher Sieber of Wyoming, Minnesota, knew who he was, sexually.
And had no one to inspire you?
“No. That’s why I did it. Took the part.”
“Of course I did have Richard Simmons, Paul Lynde, and Charlton Heston.” He breaks up — internally, straight-faced.
That was a joke, son.