BWW Interview: Christopher Sieber of CANDIDE at Alliance Theatre

BWW Interview: Christopher Sieber of CANDIDE at Alliance Theatre
L to R: Aaron Blake and Christopher Sieber
Photo by Greg Mooney

Two-time Tony Award nominee Christopher Sieber is back in Atlanta where he's taking on the roles of Dr. Pangloss and The Narrator in Leonard Bernstein's 1956 operetta, Candide, a collaboration between ALLIANCE THEATRE and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. BroadwayWorld caught up with Christopher Sieber to talk about the project.

You're in Atlanta again!

Yeah, we're finishing up Candide with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra here at the ALLIANCE THEATRE.

I saw the photos of the show this morning. They look amazing. The staging looks really interesting.

It's really cool. We have so many elements. We have about 200 people on stage. We have the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra chorus. They number about 120. And then we have the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra which is probably approximately 55. And then we have the 17 cast members, so there's a lot of people on stage. We all get together, and we tell this absurd story.

What attracted you to this project? Are you a fan of Voltaire's work?

Not exactly.

Or Bernstein?

Yeah, Bernstein, actually. Bernstein. I've always liked the - I've only listened to it. I've never actually seen it - but I've always listened to it. I think the music is fantastic. I have seen videos from several different versions of it, and I was like "well, that's really fun." It's a silly show. I guess the message is "everything is a lie." Voltaire's whole idea was that you've been told these things your entire life, but, in the long run, nothing matters.

It's an operetta, right?

It's an operetta. It's a comic operetta. It's on the edge of absurd, almost. You meet people, and then they get killed, and then they come back to life for no apparent reason. Everything just kind of randomly happens, and it's the whole idea of what Voltaire was talking about - that nothing matters. And things kind of just happen.

BWW Interview: Christopher Sieber of CANDIDE at Alliance Theatre
Christopher Sieber
Photo by Greg Mooney

You play the narrator and Pangloss. What have the challenges been while working on these roles?

We had a Herculean effort, really, because we had to put this show up - we put the entire thing up with the orchestra, with the chorus, with staging, and some choreography, and we did it in eleven days, and we did it. We did it. It wasn't pretty, but we did it. And now we're up and running, and it's fine. But right up until the last minute, we were all freaking out, and we actually pulled it off. But learning this piece was a challenge, too, because the story is not linear. The story is kind of all over the place, so trying to connect with a piece of the story is really difficult because, like I said, it's a farce, and it's absurdist, and it's satire, and things happen randomly for no particular reason whatsoever, and that's the hardest part to this. This work was actually hard to put in your brain because of all these things that just randomly happen, so me, as the narrator, trying to make sense of the story for the audience was really quite a challenge. Plus, being the narrator, you kind of just stand in one place, and you tell the story, and that's difficult. It's a lot of words. It's a lot of explanation and exposition that you have to get out. If you're not part of the story- you're just telling the story - it's actually more difficult to remember the story because you're just standing there telling the story. Yeah, you're not necessarily connected with the people who you are describing, so it's a very odd thing. Usually, I'm very quick at learning material. I'm very fast. I've gone into shows in four days. This we had 11 days, but I found that I'm really good when I can connect with people and be in a scene because it makes sense. This doesn't make sense.

It sounds like the show might play to your comedic strengths. You are wonderful with the farce. You play Pangloss, also, right?

I play Pangloss. He is the wisest of all possible philosophers and scientists. He teaches the children of the Schloss Thunder-ten-Tronk, the ancestral home to the Baron and the Baroness. And he instructs them that everything in the world is for the best possible reason, and he sets up this lie, and these kids believe it their entire lives, and then they go off into the world and find out that everything in the world is not, indeed, for the best at all.

BWW Interview: Christopher Sieber of CANDIDE at Alliance Theatre
L to R: Robert Spano and Christopher Sieber
Photo by Greg Mooney

You guys are also using puppetry to tell the story. Is that right?

Yeah. This guy named Matt Acheson. He's from New York. Susan Booth, our director saw some of his work. It's not necessarily puppetry. It is puppetry, but it's a different kind. There are like miniature sets, basically, and we have this little puppeteer with a camera on it so the audience can see the puppet show on these giant screens on stage left and stage right, and he's able to visually describe as I'm describing what's happening. So, there's a moment when a ship goes across the sea bound for Lisbon, and it splits in half, and he thinks, and he makes this little wave machine like you would see in a toy theatre, and then this little ship sails over it and splits in half and sinks. And then he has a little volcano that erupts. It's really some cool stuff. The idea is that Matt is kind of the one manipulating, so he's kind of like a quasi-God. He kind of is manipulating all of us on stage.

That's a great concept.

Yeah. It's a new way to tell this story. That we're not really in control. That someone is controlling us. It's brilliant. All of that becomes clear when you come and see it.

So, we in Atlanta like to say that you're becoming an Atlanta regular.

I said just the other day to Susan Booth that "Boy, if I'm not careful, I'm going to become an Atlanta favorite." Yeah, and she said, "Well, that would be nice." I said, "Yeah. I like it here." I do like it here. Everybody's awesome. I mean... the people at the ALLIANCE THEATRE are just fantastic. They treat you like platinum, and anything you need is taken care of.

Well, you are platinum. Speaking of which, I hear you're heading back to Broadway with a new show that spent some time in Atlanta.

Last time I was here, I was with a show called The Prom that's going to be on Broadway this fall. The Alliance was a big part of helping to develop that show here with our first real audiences. We brought it down here because it's a purple state, and, you know, you have an incredibly diverse population here, theatergoing audiences, conservative and liberal, and that's what we wanted - to see how we would do just in the general audience, and the show was a tremendous success because we were able to learn a lot from the audiences down here. So, we're going to be at the Cort Theatre this fall, and I believe we start previews in October... We open November 15. And I'm excited about that. We've been working on it for 6 ½ years. We've been working on it forever. A long time.

So much to look forward to with you!

Thank you, Amy.

Candide runs through May 20 at Atlanta Symphony Hall.

For tickets and info, visit www.alliancetheatre.org/candide



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