BWW Interviews: George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber Dish on LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
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by Kelly Cameron
La Cage Aux Folles danced its way into Toronto in sequined, over the top splendor this past Friday, with two dazzling leading men heading up the cast. George Hamilton stars as Georges, the manager of a Saint-Tropez nightclub that features drag entertainers, while Christopher Sieber is Albin, George’s partner and star of the club’s shows. Sieber joined the touring production of La Cage aux Folles straight off the Broadway run, where he played the role of Georges, making him the only actor in the history of the production to tackle both roles. Hamilton is new to the production, taking over the role that Kelsey Grammar played on Broadway.
After arriving in Toronto, the two men joined me for a hilarious Q&A session that had them explaining how they keep the show fresh, how Sieber ‘burns his babies’ by throwing crazy adlibs at his fellow actors and ended with George Hamilton demonstrating his various ‘gay walks’:
Welcome to Toronto! How has the journey been so far?
CS: It’s been great, we’re thrilled to be here. The Royal Alex is a perfect theatre for our show – 1500 seats is just the right size. Plus we’re happy to be here for six weeks because we can sit down and settle in. This is the end of the road for us, six weeks in Toronto and we wrap a year long tour.
Chris, you’re coming off a Broadway run where you played Georges. Now that you’re playing Albin have you had a chance to consider which role you prefer?
CS: It depends on the day.
Do you sometimes wish you could switch?
CS: There are days where I definitely do. Sometimes I just have to pull up the bootstraps and go. This show takes so much out of you both physically and emotionally, so sometimes it would be nice to wear only three costumes instead of fifteen and ditch the heels. But I do love it. I also haven’t missed many shows which I’m proud of, I think I’ve only missed eight all year, and four were for charity.
How about you George? Could you do Zaza for one night?
GH: I doubt it!
CS: We should do a photoshoot with you as Zaza and me as Georges. Just for fun!
GH: I make a very ugly woman.
CS: I’m not pretty either! I’m ugly!
GH: I’ve actually always wanted to play the character a bit ‘off’. I think that could be fun. After all, it’s hard enough to be a heterosexual playing gay and not having the gay gestures, maybe if I played the character as slightly ‘off center’ it would add to the fun. I have a brother who is gay and he had some very gentile and fine moves, but nothing that was overtly feminine. So when I play Georges I think of him, and try and ensure that my characterization isn’t turned into a parody.
You guys have been touring this show for almost a year, do you find that audience reactions differ greatly between cities?
CS: The thing I’ve learned traveling through the United States is that the people in each city are usually awesome, it’s generally the ‘talking heads’ that give us trouble. There are certain aspects of our show that can be tough – but we have a line at the beginning that says ‘you’ll love us once you get to know us’. I think that’s how we approach each audience as well.
Our show is abrupt and in your face, it can be a bit jarring at first. But by the end of Act 1 we normally have the audience right there with us – and they do fall in love with us once they get to know us. And if we ever have any negativity which is palpable, the entire company uses it as fuel to try even harder to win them over.
With all the bullying going on today, the It Gets Better campaigns and teens committing suicide, do you think the message of this show might resonate even more now than when it was first released?
CS: I think yes and no. Back when it was written it was quite a leap and a risk to put on a show like this. For someone to proclaim ‘I Am What I Am’ was so amazing, but also very brave. I think now the gay issues has fallen a bit more to the wayside, and the central message is more about it being ok to be who you are, WHATEVER that is. So in Albin’s case he’s gay, but he’s also flamboyant and a bit crazy. And he’s proclaiming that is who he is, flamboyantly crazy and you have to accept him that way. There are people who see this show and will burst into tears because they want to be able to make that kind of proclamation themselves. If you’re bullied your entire life you want to be able to just scream to the world ‘well that’s who I am!’ In this show, that’s what we do.
GH: Chris does ‘I Am What I Am’ really well. From what I’ve read and seen he has his own take on it that has amazing reach and truth that hasn’t always existed in previous versions. I think that also helps the message hit home with the audience.
Have you had people approach you and talk to you about how the show impacted them?
CS: Absolutely. People have come up and told us that it’s astonishing and that it changed their lives. That’s pretty special.
George, was there something in particular about this show that made you want to return to musical theatre?
GH: I’m not known as a singer, but in life I like to do things that are a bit beyond my reach to keep myself from slipping. These days I find that technology has made it so that we don’t need to have a memory system, and as I get older I want to do things that challenge me. What could be more challenging than doing this show with a knee that’s been replaced, after tearing my Achilles heel with a baker’s cyst on the back of my knee? And then I have to try and dance!
CS: But you can’t dance! *laughs*
GH: But I try! And in reaching out and doing these new things you get into this strange kind of shape where you are better off than if you were just resting, because you’re using things that wouldn’t otherwise be mute. I do have to watch my voice though, I don’t rest it as much as I should. I leave the stage and I still don’t shut up! Chris on the other hand is good about being quiet after a show, which is a good thing since he’s always talking in the production. I find I’m listening to him more and more as the run goes on.
Now that you’ve been doing the show for so long, would you even notice if Chris threw in a weird adlib?
CS: I do it all the time, and he does notice!
GH: Chris says that he never gets bored, that he just throws these lines in for his own amusement…
GH: For example, sometimes he will throw in a “I look just like George Hamilton” line. Then I’m stuck there trying to keep a straight face and pretend like I have no idea who George Hamilton is. Chris is great like that, he believes you should always surprise your fellow actors.
CS: Burn your babies, so to speak. On a long running show it’s always good to shake things up a little bit because if you don’t everyone ends up on auto-pilot. We keep things interesting. You can tell when it happens because there’s a pause in the theatre, and if it’s longer than two seconds everyone pays attention. And it matters, it keeps us focused.
GH: He’s also never off on his lines. He can be off on his adlibs but his timing is always perfect. I like that he shakes it up though, because we fall into what is predictable and you don’t want that. You need to keep it fresh.
Finally, I’ve heard George talking about his ‘gay walk’. How did this come about?
GH: When I was doing Zorro: The Gay Blade I went to Robert Conrad and asked him for tips on how to walk with a gay walk. I ended up with nine guys all showing me how I could do it, and I filmed every one of them! It came down to two walks, and Robert had the best. He told me: “there are two walks. One has a pencil in his butt. The other has a pencil with a spring!”
CS: Oh this will be great for print…
And just like that, we wrapped our interview with George Hamilton demonstrating both of his ‘gay walks’ for Christopher and myself, and I got a first-rate education in how actors learn their mannerisms.
When and Where?
La Cage Aux Folles
The Royal Alexandra Theatre
On Now Until November 18th
Tickets range from $35 to $130 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at www.mirvish.com