Michael Siberry: New King's on the Block
Australian-native Michael Siberry is an alumnus of England's Royal Shakespeare Company and made his Broadway debut in the RSC's revival of Nicholas Nickleby. He returned to Broadway as Gratiano in the Dustin Hoffman and Sir Peter Hall production of The Merchant of Venice. His roles in London have included Charles Surface in the School for Scandal, the Actor in The Woman in Black, Billy Flynn in Chicago, Oberon in A Midsummer Nights Dream; and Osbourne in Journey's End. Other performances in the US have included Baron Von Trapp in the Broadway revival of The Sound of Music; Shakespeare in The Frogs (Lincoln Centre); and Touchstone in As You Like It (London & US Tour).
Between hunts for the Holy Grail and calculating the distance a swallow can flying whilst carrying a coconut, Michael Siberry found a moment to chat with BroadwayWorld about his time performing the gilded role in the hyperbolic (and supremely comical) Kingdom of Camelot...
Eugene Lovendusky: Congratulations; you're 4-weeks in since putting on the Broadway crown... How's it feel?
Michael Siberry: It feels great. I'd been doing it on the road for just over 2-years and it's great being on Broadway - coming into town. Different from the road company, but there are a lot of people here now whom I performed with on the road, so it's very nice. I'm feeling very much at home.
Eugene: After two years, King Arthur's definitely "in" you, so to speak. How did you get involved with Spamalot in the first place?
Michael: I was in England doing a play called Journey's End, and the Spamalot producers asked me to audition for the London production. When they realized I had a green-card (because I've come backwards and forwards to America quite a bit over the years) they asked if I wanted to tour. I thought it would be a fantastic way to see the country! I said "Yeah" and it's been the greatest trip I can imagine. Most people who come from overseas spend their time in New York or the West Coast, so it was just an opportunity to see places I've never seen.
Eugene: You've probably seen more of this country than I have!
Michael: Yeah, everything! When I watch television now, I see places I remember and have visited. I finished the tour, came back to New York, and they asked me if I wanted to do it here for a spell.
Eugene: How is settling in The Shubert Theatre different from being on the road?
Michael: It's not that different, other than being in a new place every couple of weeks. Some cities we sat-down for quite a while... But the biggest difference is the feeling of being home, raher than shifting location. I loved the tour but I'm enjoying this.
Eugene: You're a lucky guy... thanks in part I'm sure because of your relationship with Director Mike Nichols...
Michael: Well, they're a really great creative team. We first came-together to do the tour; that was the first production outside the original Broadway show. Now there's one in England, there was one in Vegas, there was one in Australia and I think they're mounting one in Germany... Mike and [choreographer] Casey Nicholaw were very good at saying: "Don't just make it an impression of Monty Python. You've got to put yourself in it or it doesn't work. Respond to it the way you respond to it." They were very clear that was the only way it was going to work. Subsequently, we became a very good ensemble. Mike knows how to make things funny, and what works and what doesn't. It's great to work with someone like that.
Eugene: How familiar were you with Monty Python beforehand?
Michael: Oh, I grew-up with it! I went to school in Australia when it first came out. We never really understood it, but we'd never seen anything like it, so we kept watching it. And the next day, you'd go back to school, and say: "Did you see it?" It was so different and so bizarre, but absolutely riveting. Everyone watched it. And then the movies came out. Of course it was great to work with Eric Idle and John Du Prez, who wrote the music for the movies and television - and of course new songs for the musical. A lot of their musical numbers were set-pieces to begin with, like show-tunes, albeit crazy.
Eugene: Speaking of "crazy" - I want to make it clear how hard-working this ensemble is! A million costume changes, spirited choreography - Clay Aiken just rejoined the cast and let me emphasize, everyone on-stage has got some good chops! Sing some praises for your cast...
Michael: Fantastic. It's a certain kind of sense of humor... a Python-esque view of Broadway, or a Broadway look at Python. Everyone has to get together to make sense of this lunacy. It's very much an ensemble piece. I've worked with Rick Holmes, Tom Deckman, Wally Dunn and a few of the others who were also on tour with me. You have to fit-in with everyone else. I haven't done that many musicals, but a lot of people say it's such a joy to do something you don't have to take seriously! Everyone enjoys the music and humor. It's very fast-moving and doesn't stop. You're on a treadmill and you can't stop or someone is going to run into you! It's very rewarding, and having done it for a few years, it's one of the few things you can also sustain. It's a great kind of reaction with the audience (even if they don't know Monty Python) because they get-it sooner or later. There's enough color and movement to entertain them.
Eugene: In a show over-brimming with musical mayhem, things are bound to go awry. The night I attended, Sir Bedevere's moustache kept falling off...
Michael: Yes! [laughs] Oh, that was great! The nice thing about it is... it's a full-on Broadway musical, but it has a creaky homemade feel about it. Sometimes when things go wrong, people don't know if it's part of the show or not. On the road, we had the sound-system completely collapse at one point. Thankfully, it was near the end of the show. The stage management came on, with headsets and microphones, and said: "We have to reboot the system, ladies and gentlemen." It was kind of surreal and hysterical. We just stood on-stage, talked to the audience, and waited to carry-on. If it's mechanical, it can go wrong. But it's a forgiving thing; no illusions are shattered!
Eugene: Where'd you grow up?
Michael: I grew up in Tasmania in Australia. When I left school, I went to the only drama school in Australia at the time: NIDA (the National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Sydney. I graduated and after two years of working in Adelaide at the State Theatre Company, I went back to England and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. I worked in theatre, mainly... the classics. In 1985, RSC remounted Nicholas Nickleby and asked if I would like to come along. That was the first time I'd come to America. We did it in Los Angeles for two-weeks then brought it to Broadway - where it promptly closed. Broadway was very different then... it was struggling. It was quiet. Nevertheless, my first time in America was just the greatest way to be introduced to the country. In L.A., Nickleby was sort of an "event" so everyone felt they needed to see it. I saw a lot of movie-stars. We felt like Munchkins in Hollywood. Then I went back to England, and came back and forth with shows. I feel very lucky to be able to do both. They're two worlds that are very similarly linked. I mean, now New York's got Billy Elliot here, just about to open. There's a good kind of partnership between London and Broadway, which I think works pretty well. It's constructive.
Eugene: About your Royal Shakespeare Company experience, how does performing The Bard prepare you for the tom-foolery of King Arthur?
Michael: A lot of Shakespeare is difficult to be convincing in. And tragedy is always bordering on the farcical. It's a great relief to do something that's completely idiotic. There is a kind of classic background, what with the quest for the Holy Grail, but this is a modern take on things like kingship. They compliment each other very well: The Classics and Monty Python. "The swallow may fly south with the sun, or the house-martin or plover may seek warmer climes in winter, yet these are not strangers to our land." There are some elements of the poetic in there!
Eugene: New York and America have been hit pretty hard by our current economic crisis. Why is a night out to the theatre the best medicine?
Michael: "Bread and circuses." That's what the people need. Who said that? I can't remember... But "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!" You need some kind of entertainment. The nice thing about the Python sense of humor (as I found while going across the country) is that everyone seems to know it now. It's critical of some elements of human-nature like pomposity, social conventions. But it's also gentle and pokes fun at itself. People shouldn't take things so seriously. "Bread and circuses"...I can't remember who said that. Clearly, I have no classical background!
Monty Python's Spamalot won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical, the 2005 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, and the 2005 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Musical.
Spamalot features a book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, direction by Mike Nichols, choreography by Casey Nicholaw and is based on the screenplay of Monty Python and the Holy Grail by Monty Python creators Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
Tickets are available online now at Telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200 or 800- 432-7250 or in-person at the Shubert Theatre (225 West 44th Street). For more information visit MontyPythonsSpamalot.com
Photos by Joan Marcus, 2008: Michael Siberry as King Arthur; Michael Siberry with David Hibbard (Patsy); Michael Siberry (right) with the Knights of the Roundtable (from left) Clay Aiken, Rick Holmes, Bradley Dean and Wally Dunn.