Christopher Sieber is a brat. At least that’s what the two-time Tony nominee (Spamalot, Shrek) and former Advocate cover boy says about himself when he sits down to discuss his latest role as sex columnist Dan Savage in the new off-Broadway musical The Kid. Then a winsome smile flashes across the actor’s photogenic face, soon followed by a throaty eruption of infectious laughter. It’s impossible to take him seriously.
Sieber, on a break from a late-morning rehearsal, arrives enthusiastic — perhaps even giddy — to discuss the show (currently being performed through May 29 at the New Group at Theater Row). The first musical produced by the New Group since its smash hit Avenue Q seven years ago, the play has already won the 2009 BMI Foundation Jerry Bock Award for Excellence in Musical Theater. Based on Savage’s best-selling memoir, The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, with book by Michael Zam, music by Andy Monroe, and lyrics by Jack Lechner, examines the legal and emotional complexities of adoption as seen through the eyes of a same-sex couple.
The 6-foot 3-inch leading man is definitely not a brat, but with his tousled mop of hair and youthful outfit of sneakers, cargo shorts, and a faded shirt, Sieber does exude the boyish charm that makes him so endearing in the part.
The Advocate: Did you know Dan Savage before accepting the role?
Christopher Sieber: I did not. Of course, I knew who he was. I read Savage Love.
Had you read The Kid?
Yeah, and it was really funny. Dan has such a sarcastic and ironic view of the world. Thank goodness I don’t have to do a life study of him. I don’t do his gestures, the tone of his voice. I’m just here to tell his story. The best way to prepare was to read his book over and over again.
I understand Savage attended a preview, but you didn’t know he was there.
I told them not to tell me.
Some actors don’t like to know if there’s a movie star or celebrity in the audience. They freak out. I don’t care. However, when you are portraying a real-life person and he’s your age and he’s known and you’re playing his story to him, that’s freaky. I saw Dan after the performance. He hugged me and said it was really weird for him, too.
How would you describe The Kid to folks who aren’t familiar with the book?
They have a subscription base here at the New Group, which tends to be older. The old ladies love us. They love the gays! One woman came up to me and she said [affecting a raspy matron’s voice], “It’s not a gay story at all — it’s a love story.” And it’s true. The interesting thing about our show is it’s not the standard coming-of-age or closeted gay tale. It’s about a kid.
But it’s not really even that important. Any parents would go through this process if they’re in an open adoption. So that’s the coolest thing about the show — it’s not a gay story.
What’s your favorite number?
Dan is having problems connecting with the child. He’s so concerned he’s not going to feel that love that’s supposed to happen immediately. He’s so scared. There’s a split second during the song “My Kid” at the very end when he finally feels the lightning bolt of love. That’s such a great moment.
Does the show have a political message?
I don’t think so. We didn’t go there. There is a scene, “They Hate Us,” about a right-wing conspiracy against the gays.
You say it’s not political, but images of four conservative icons — Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly — pop up on a screen in the background.
That song is the one moment in the show that’s political.
Do you and your partner have any plans to adopt?
No! No-o-o! The child would starve to death! I love my friends’ kids. I love spoiling my nieces and nephews, but I’m not that guy. I’ve never thought, Oh, I want a kid.
Are you afraid of parenthood?
No, I’m afraid of not doing what I love doing. I love acting. I love performing. I love being in front of people, and if I couldn’t do that ... that’s a real fear.
A lot of guys would be afraid to go shirtless in front of an audience. It’s great to see a hunky leading man who doesn’t have a perfect gym body take his shirt off onstage.
I’m not that guy anymore. At first I was like, Oh, God. [Sighs] I was that guy, that buff, muscular guy. I had an eight-pack and the muscles. And then you get older. Also, I have injuries from Shrek. I’m in physical therapy. That show wrecked me.
I was on my knees the entire time. That screws up your body, especially after two years and eight shows a week. The whole thing here [Sieber rubs his stomach] is a distention on my abdomen because I had to push out my muscles to hold myself up through my core. My neck is screwed up so I can’t lift. If I do, my right arm will go numb. So I let it go. If the gays are going to say something about it, let ’em fucking say something about it. I’m 41 years old. I’m a normal guy and have a normal-guy body now.
Do you see yourself as post-gay?
The one thing that bothers me — I may catch shit for this, who knows? — is they always put “openly gay actor Chris Sieber.” Oh, really? Everybody knows. Please, let’s move on. They don’t ever say “openly straight actor.”
Well, in New York or L.A. it’s easy to be out, but for a 14-year-old lesbian, gay, or transgender kid growing up in Kansas, hearing you can come out and still get a Tony nomination is a big deal.
I suppose. [Mock pouts] OK, I’ll get over myself. [Laughs]
The Kid seems to be part of a gay wave hitting the theater world right now.
Yeah, like Next Fall just got a Tony nomination. Geoff Nauffts did, too. That’s fantastic! Michael Urie, who’s a friend of mine, won the Lortel [Off-Broadway Award for Outstanding Lead Actor] for The Temperamentals, about the Mattachine Society. And we’ve got Yank! which is now going to Broadway. Theater always stems from what’s happening around the country and around the world. Yank! came from the “don’t ask, don’t tell” issue. Our show says something about gay adoption. There are certain places that gay men and women with kids cannot go with a family, like Florida. Crazy, fucked-up stuff. We don’t say that in our show because that’s not our job, but we do make the audience aware. All the gay stuff that’s out on Broadway and off Broadway is diverse. It’s not the same old story, which I think is terrific.
The last musical that the New Group produced, Avenue Q, went to Broadway. Do you think The Kid will head to the Great White Way?
Who knows what will happen? I kind of live from day to day, because you can’t plan too far in advance. Things just kind of happen in this crazy business we call “show.” So yes, I’d love to be a part of it. I think it would do well.