The Broadway musical The Prom made huge gay waves when a number from the show appeared on the recent Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and it culminated with a big old lesbian kiss. All the same people who’ve no doubt pleasured themselves to Melania’s lesbian spread were suddenly outraged, though the right folks saw this as a welcome celebration of queerdom and a step forward in visibility. As for those who claimed that the loving image warped their children, the only kids I feel it traumatized are those who saw it as their parents looked away and yelped, “This is disgusting!” Besides, don’t a lot of these parents support a President who tear-gasses three-year-olds?
Well, I just talked to Christopher Sieber, one of the best known stars of The Prom. A king of multimedia, Sieber played gay in the sitcom It’s All Relative (2003-04) and he has two Tony nominations for satirical period musicals—for Spamalot (he played multiple roles) and Shrek the Musical (he was Lord Farquaard). And now, Sieber—who’s married to actor-chef Kevin Burrows—attends The Prom, a splashily funny show about four narcissistic actors and a publicist traveling to Indiana to help a lesbian go to the prom with her girlfriend while they try to get good press for themselves. In the process, Sieber has gotten great press for his funny performance. He’s Trent Oliver, a musical comedy actor who went to Juilliard—as he keeps reminding us—and went on to get cast in a rickety tour of Godspell. Here’s our chat.
Hi, Christopher. I loved The Prom!
We worked so hard on it. Seven years. [Director-choreographer] Casey Nicholaw approached us all randomly two weeks before. I knew him when he was a performer. We did Thoroughly Modern Millie together. Then he choreographed Spamalot. He came to me one day, and I had done a reading of The Drowsy Chaperone. He said, “Can I get your advice?” Casey Nicholaw asking me advice! Crazy! He said, “There’s a show called The Drowsy Chaperone and they want me to direct and choreograph.” I said, “Yes, you should do it. It’s hilarious.” I feel sort of responsible. [Laughs]
What’s your chemistry together like?
He’s like the biggest cheerleader director. The enthusiasm he has, his laser-like storytelling. It’s always about the show and making sure you’re comfortable. He’s a miracle worker, letting us be us and find these characters, even though they’re loosely based on us.
So you’re really looking for press as a great humanitarian?
[Laughs] I do a lot of charity work—Broadway Cares and the Actors Fund. The whole idea of us being celebrity activists was not borne right away when we started working on the show. The characters played by Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, and I were already Broadway stars, but you saw us in the worst shows of our lives and we wanted to escape. In the original opening number, Beth was in Goonies the Musical, Brooks had Forest Gump the Musical, and I had Long Day’s Journey Into Night the Musical. There was confetti shot out of a cannon after every number. They decided maybe we shouldn’t do that. We had to set up what’s the motivation for the plot [so after a bad Times review, they go to Indiana to beef up their own PR].
Your character explains to the town’s students that they’re being hypocritical in singling out homosexuality as the only thing the Bible allegedly condemns. I always felt hate-bakeries should also refuse to serve divorcees, tattooed people, or those who masturbate. The joint would be empty.
Mixing fabric. Selling your daughter into slavery, all that stuff. [Laughs] I grew up in a very religious family. My mother is a retired hospice minister. I came out to my parents at 18. Imagine their zeal and excitement as ministers when I came out to them! [Chortles] I heard all the biblical arguments and never subscribed to the religion. We were raised Catholic and moved to drinking strychnine and shaking tambourines. As a kid, I was always uncomfortable.
Did they throw you out when you came out?
My brothers and I had already moved out. My parents raised us three boys to think for ourselves. It backfired on them. As my parents said, “We raised you to leave.” When you’re told your entire life that who you are is wrong and the people who are supposed to love and protect you, you’re afraid to tell, and you’re the most evil thing…it’s never comfortable when you have to come out. It’s so wonderful now because kids are coming out at 13 or earlier and their fellow students don’t really care. That makes me hopeful.
As for coming out: Is your character, Trent, gay? I couldn’t get a vibe.
I decided he is not. He’s just so affected from Juilliard. I gave him affectations that may come across as gay. I always say he went to England, because when I went to the West End and did Spamalot, my gaydar was so off. I said, “Everyone reads gay to me” on the first day of rehearsal. But only three people were gay.
So Trent is British.
He wants to be.
I also enjoyed his touting the importance of a drama program for students.
[SPOILER AHEAD] Trent needs some sort of button. Him becoming the drama teacher is hilarious. How he takes on the mantle so quickly. “Yes, I’m a drama teacher.”
And moving to Indiana!
I know, it’s a laugh. But he talks on and on, and no one ever wants to listen to him except the students. He can pontificate and he’ll have a classroom of students who’ll hang on his every word.
Did you publicly come out because you were playing a gay character on It’s All Relative?
Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, the executive producers, hired John Benjamin Hickey and myself. They asked us if we’d do the cover of a gay magazine and we said, “Yeah, absolutely.” That was the coming out, but John and I had been so gay for so long, it was like “And? Yeah? For sure.” It wasn’t a blockbuster like, “He’s gay!!!” It was “We know.” I think we were the first acknowledged openly gay men playing gay men on TV. We didn’t get any backlash. Ellen broke ground before us with “The Puppy Episode” in such a hilarious way. After [we came out], our show’s writers did a lot of gay jokes. It was fine, but I felt we’re more than this. To me, it was getting a little like, “We get it.” Gay jokes, straight jokes. There were straight conservative characters making gay jokes and gay characters making jokes about the straight conservatives. There’s more comedy to be mined than that.
Speaking of mining comedy: What was it like to do drag as a Miss Trunchbull replacement in Matilda in 2014?
If they need somebody to do some crazy, vile, over-the-top character, they come to me, especially if there’s the potential to hurt myself. I broke my hand during rehearsal for the show. There’s a number called “The Smell of Rebellion,” where she shows off her former Olympic prowess, does a flip and lands like an Olympian. I eventually went in the show for two-and-a-half years. That does get old after a while vocally and emotionally. You don’t just come on, say something quippy, and leave. You’re shot out of a cannon every scene. But I loved working with the kids. Broadway kids are not normal people, they’re extraordinary. And I was in a big fat suit with a pull-string. I was basically wearing a sofa. It does get tedious. I was having fun till I wasn’t.
But the Macy’s Parade kiss was totally fun. Did you all know you were making history?
We didn’t know what they were going to choose. “Love thy Neighbor” [Sieber’s song], the opening number, “Tonight Belongs To You,” or the finale, where everyone’s involved. They chose the latter, so at the end, the two girls kiss. When we did a run-through for the network and Macy’s at the theater, they didn’t even blink. We thought, “They’re gonna say, ‘Let’s not do the kiss, let’s do a hug.’” We thought, “Wow, this is awesome.” A couple of days before the parade, you do camera blocking with lights. Instead of cutting away from the kiss, they zoomed in, which of course is innocent, but I thought, “They’re really doing it.” We’re so used to things like that being censored. But they said, “Let’s show loving people.” We were so happy, so proud.
I noticed that after a beat of the kiss, it switched to an aerial shot.
But they showed it.
And the girls held hands throughout.
We’re in the trailer, it’s seven degrees, and you’re so exhilarated after it’s over, smiling and laughing, then it dawned on us, “That just happened. And terrible things from the religious conservatives in five, four…” And it all blew up.
Who cares? Let them vent. We won.
I was one of those kids watching the Tony Awards when someone thanked their boyfriend or girlfriend. I know we’re affecting gay people out there. We showed what is true.
Congrats. And finally, what’s the key to your relationship with Kevin?
We’ve been together 18 years—married for seven. When we met, we were friends doing Beauty and the Beast. I was Gaston, he was the fork. After the big number “Gaston,” we were almost an hour offstage, so we’d hang out in the dressing room and talk and gossip. We became good friends. We were telling all our dirty secrets to each other because we had no idea we’d end up in a relationship. But there was still an attraction there. He’s so supportive of me, so helpful. He lets me be when he knows when I’m overwhelmed. We’re becoming an old married couple.
I’d love to spoon with an old fork. See you, Christopher!
“I’m the Queen of the World!”
I know what should start next year’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Titanique! The cabaret show extraordinaire—which I caught last night at Yotel’s Green Room 42—is a parody of Titanic, using Celine Dion songs and adding so much gay content it’s a wonder it’s not a Rosie cruise.
In this version, Celine herself (played by Marla Mindelle, who co-wrote the show with Constantine Rousouli and Tye Blue and directed with Blue) is a focal character, as she narrates what really happened on the star-crossed decks of the Titanique ocean liner. Jack (Rousouli), a terrible artist and “an aging twink,” not to mention a piss-poor “she-ro”—meets Rose (Alex Ellis), a total slut who’s quickly over her fiancé, who happens to be on Grindr (Sebastian Lacause), and her mother, who’s a bit of a man (Stephen Guarino). Add to the mix captain Victor Garber (played by Frankie Grande), the unsinkable Molly Brown (Kathy Deitch), and Tina Turner as “Iceberg Bitch” (Mykal Kilgore) and you’ve got a full ship of fools, all of whom are as adept at belting Celine songs as they are at funny Carol-Burnett-Show-but-dirtier shtick, complete with an eggplant up Rose’s ass.
The musicality (musical direction by Nicholas James Connell) is superb, with Mindelle knowing every Celine swoop and joining a sizzling “Tell Him” trio for the women—and the jokes never hit an iceberg either. When Victor Garber is told he’s had a lovely career for a homosexual, he replies, “The closet helped.” Meanwhile, he is all mollied out and jittery, singing “I Drove All Night” while trying to rush the boat to a circuit party on Fire Island. And did I mention that there’s a climactic showdown that’s a total homage to Drag Race? Remember Boat Trip? Neither do I, but you’ll love Titanique.