BWW Interview: THE PROM's Christopher Sieber Talks Saving a Town and Building a Prom
Christopher Sieber has been seen on the Broadway stage in no fewer than eleven shows (and that's not counting role reprisals). Now the prolific performer is taking the stage as Trent Oliver in the musical that's touching hearts and funny bones alike, The Prom.
The story of Emma, a high school lesbian, and her efforts to be who she is and love who she loves is enchanting audiences left and right. Sieber took a moment to speak with us about what it's like being part of such a relevant and heartfelt show alongside some of the biggest stars in the biz.
Bringing an original musical to Broadway is no small feat and audiences can be hesitant to embrace the show, what has the audience and fan response been to The Prom?
The word of mouth on our show is insane. I've never been in a show with word of mouth like that, where everyone loves it. No one has not liked it or not loved it, everyone loves it. This is what we hear a lot: "Oh my god, I had no idea what this was about and I'm so glad I came and I have to bring my mom. Or I have to bring my grandma or I have to bring my friend." It goes just like that. We've had people come back and go to the stage door saying "this is my eighth time seeing the show," and I'm like "yay!" People keep coming back and it's terrific-we just love it. Beth Leavel put it best, "it's like the easiest hard work we've ever done."
Did you expect that? Were you at all apprehensive?
You know what, it was an odd thing. When we started previews on Broadway we couldn't wait for a New York audience to see it. We did out of town previews in Atlanta at the Alliance Theatre chosen because it's a great theatre, first and foremost, but it's also a purple state. It Democratic and Republican, Liberal and Conservative and so when we did the show in Atlanta we were killing it. The show was so well received and people were laughing. We didn't know how they would react because of the subject matter. We couldn't wait to bring it to New York because it's so savvy and the show is so savvy.
We were hoping, and we were right, that the audiences would go absolutely bonkers for it. We were actually really excited, more than apprehensive or holding any reservations or anything. We believed in the show so much and we believe that what we have is one amazing, special, incredibly heartwarming, lovely, hilarious show that will make you laugh out of your seat and then cry the next second.
It must help to have such an amazing cast at your side.
The cast is insane. The thing is, Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Angie Schworer, and myself have all been friends for twenty years or more. We know each other personally and then we got to work with each other and that never happens, so that's just a dream. Then we worked with the creatives like Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin and Casey Nicholaw and Matthew Sklar and we've all known them for twenty years or more. Casey Nicholaw and I did shows together. We did Thoroughly Modern Millie together. He was in the ensemble. That's crazy. And Matthew Sklar, I knew him when he was a rehearsal pianist at Paper Mill Playhouse, I think we was seventeen or eighteen years old. Bob Martin and I did the original NYMF production of The Drowsy Chaperone.
The whole process of this show has been hard but we laughed so much through the entire rehearsal process and through the workshops and the readings and it's been seven years almost putting this together and every step of the way we've never said, "eh, we're not sure about this." We never said no. We always said "let's try it." And it just got better and better and better.
We defined the story more when we went out to the Alliance and then we knew we had a great Broadway show. Once we had Broadway rehearsals, we were able to refine the story even more and now it's just this wonderful show that we kinda can't believe we're part of.
How did that closeness and camaraderie affect the development of the piece?
Bob, Chad, and Matthew, and Casey, they were so, so gracious and generous with us by letting us improv things. It just kind of fell out of our faces while we were speaking and if it was funny and good for the story it stayed in. There's a lot of us in that show, it's so utterly tailored for us. There were even a couple lines where we would read it and look at them and go "hey, come on, I don't do that...but yeah I kinda do that."
Moving to the heart of the show, what does it mean to you to be telling this story right now in this climate?
When we started six, seven years ago, it was timely because the Defense of Marriage Act was being discussed. Then it was kind of done away with and we were like okay, we're not so timely. Things were kinda good because the Administration and the White House was actually helping Americans and being there for people. Then the 2016 campaign happened and all of a sudden, we were very timely, extremely, and we remain so because of what's happening now.
The greatest thing is seeing kids after every single performance at the stage door. You can see two, or three, or four with tears in their eyes because they saw themselves on stage and their story is getting told. They're these young, gay kids who think they're alone and that's the whole idea of the show, is just listen to each other and it doesn't matter who you love, it's that you love. I always give them a hug because, oh my god, I was that kid too. And no matter what side of the fence you're on, really there are no enemies in our show. We're not making fun, if anything we're making fun of ourselves, the performers, the actors. We're making more fun of ourselves than anybody else.
We're making comments, of course, on the way the world is, but it's true. And we win over those people who are a bit more conservative. We win them over because we don't make them an enemy by any means. The whole idea is that if you just stop and listen rather than arguing and saying, "you're wrong, you're wrong, you're wrong," you start to see things differently. We've had people saying, "If I had known what the show was about, I probably wouldn't have come, but I didn't know what it was about and I did come and I'm so glad."
You can't describe your career as anything less than prolific, when juxtaposing The Prom alongside your other roles, how does it fit in alongside?
The Prom is so special to me because it's something that I was lucky enough and allowed to create with these wonderful people. Like I said, this doesn't happen and there's so much of Trent that is me. It's kind of the hardest part I've had to play because I usually get to hide behind crazy, over the top characters and Trent is a real person. He's a weirdo. He's full of himself and arrogant but so sweet in the same way. People say Trent is so funny and I say, "he's really not." Trent Oliver is not a funny guy if you read the script and you read what we put together. It's just the way that he's gotta be played. He lives in his own little bubble of greatness and he's a failure. He's a former member of Actor's Equity if that's any indication of how his career is going, but he still thinks he's amazing.
I would say Spamalot! has been my favorite show ever, but now this one is my favorite show ever, because I got to create this with my friends and it is so fun.
There's a commercial where you have a paper towel and they're advertising paper towels and you have grapes or something on the paper towel and you run it under the sink and they say "Look how strong our paper towels are. You can put grapes on these paper towels under the faucet and look how strong it is!" I always look at comedy like that. It's like the tension on the paper towel and if you put too much on it, it'll break. I look at it like that. This whole show is like that. If you push it too hard, they're not gonna laugh and if you don't push it enough they're not gonna laugh. So you're kinda in this weird place under the faucet. You have to be grape on a paper towel!
Finally, how are you feeling going into awards season? Nervous, excited, apathetic?
Luckily Brooks, Beth, Angie and I have been through this before, so we know what's coming. You never know what's going to happen. Of course you hope for the best. All you can do is literally take it one day at a time. I just hope they like us. I don't really do it for the awards. Brooks and I every time we introduce each other I always say, "And one time Tony loser Brooks Ashmanskas," and he goes "And two time Tony loser, Christopher Sieber." And then Beth Leavel says, "Um, I have a Tony."
Who knows what's going to happen? I just know that number one it's so hard to get a show on Broadway in the first place, so the fact that we're here is amazing. The fact that everyone on Broadway has worked as hard as we have to get where they are is amazing.
I always say the Broadway community is like high school where everyone sits at the cool kids table because we all worked our butts off to get where we are and we all respect each other because we know what we've all gone through. I just have to do the best show that I possibly can for the people and hope they enjoy us.
For tickets to The Prom, visit theprommusical.com.
Photo Credit: Deen Van Meer