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Tune Thursday: Christopher Sieber kneels to get a rise out of Broadway audiences

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Tune Thursday: Christopher Sieber kneels to get a rise out of Broadway audiences

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Christopher Sieber has a favor to ask of his fans: No more questions about his knees. Please?

“Seriously, my knees are fine,” Sieber laughed, “Everything else on my body hurts right now. But my knees are great.”

Of course, it’s easy to understand why friends, family, even perfect strangers would continually quiz this Tony nominee about those parts of his body. Given that – eight performances a week – this 6-foot-2 actor is singing & dancing on his knees at the Broadway Theatre. Playing that teeny tiny tyrant, Lord Farquaad, in “Shrek The Musical.”

“I actually helped invent the rig that I wear in the show,” Christopher explained. “It’s basically two kneepads that have been sewn together which are made out of this rubber shock absorber material. So my knees really are fine. It’s the way I have to hold myself while performing on my knees that’s now causing me problems in my upper mid back.”

Chris Sieber as Lord Farquaad in Shrek the Musical on Broadway
Christopher Sieber

Mind you, Sieber knew from the very moment that director Jason Moore called him and then asked Christopher to take part in an early reading of “Shrek The Musical” that Farquaad was going to be a real challenge.

“This was about three years ago,” Sieber remembered. “And they only had five songs and half an act written at that point. And Lord Farquaad’s song was this Burt Bachrach / Tom Jones-y thing that eventually got cut out of the show. But even then the material showed so much promise. You just knew that there was a great musical in there somewhere.”

But even back then, one of the real challenges that the “Shrek The Musical” production team faced was how to translate Lord Farquaad to the stage. How to take that diminutive dictator from the Academy Award-winning animated feature and then translate this cartoon character into someone that a real live actor could portray in a Broadway musical.

“Back then, we talked about trap doors and trenches that would be hidden in the stage,” Christopher continued. “But in the end, the idea of a full-sized actor playing Farquaad on his knees is what helped make that part funny. Which is why I pushed for that being the way this role would be played.”

Christopher Sieber as Lord Farquaad in Shrek the Musical
Photo by Joan Marcus. Copyright 2008 DreamWorks Theatrical. All Rights Reserved

Tim Hatley (who took home a Tony earlier this week for his clever costumes for “Shrek The Musical”) came up with an outfit that would help hide Sieber’s extremely long legs. The only problem is – when Christopher’s wearing this cape-and-crown combo, he takes up six square feet of surface.

“Which is why – when I’m in costume for the second act and I’m not actually out on stage yet – the stage crew keeps me stashed in a corner, facing a backstage wall,” Sieber said. “This is why I tell people that I’m the loneliest actor on Broadway.”

Now once Chistopher gets out of that corner and finally faces the audiences at the Broadway Theatre, it’s a whole ‘nother story. Sieber steals virtually every scene that he’s in. Thanks – in large part – to his unique take on this miniature monarch.

“My version of Lord Farquaad is kind of a mix of John Lithgow (i.e. the Tony Award winner who originally voiced this cartoon character), Kelsey Grammer and Hannibal Lector,” Sieber stated. “And what’s great about playing this character is that there's no such thing as playing this part too broadly. I find that I can get away with virtually anything as long as I then shoot the audience an ‘Ooh, aren’t I naughty?’ glance.”

Brian D'ary James and Christopher Sieber in Shrek the Musical
(L to R) Brian D'arcy James & Christoper Sieber in
"Shrek The Musical" at the Broadway Theatre.
Photo by Joan Marcus. Copyright 2009
DreamWorks Theatrical. All Rights Reserved

One aspect of playing Farquaad that Christopher really enjoys is the opportunity he’s been given to try & trip up his co-stars.

“There’s a couple of spots in the script where the folks from DreamWorks Theatrical have told me that it’s okay if I ad-lib. Change the name of a drink or of Lord Farquaad’s horse if this new line will still get a laugh out of the audience,” Sieber went on. “Of course, the best part of doing this is to watching  Sutton (Foster) or Brian (D’Arcy James) suppress a smile, try not to break up onstage.”

It’s not every producer that would allow an actor this amount of freedom. But Christopher had nothing but high praise for DreamWorks Theatrical.

“Right from the get-go, these guys were all about making a good show better,” Sieber said. “Sure, they worked us hard. We were rehearsing new scenes & blocking for ‘Shrek The Musical’ right up until two days before we opened. Their main goal wasn’t just to recreate “Shrek” the movie onstage. They wanted us to turn this material into a real Broadway musical.”

Christopher Sieber as Lord Farquaad and Gingy the Gingerbread Man in Shrek the Musical
Photo by Joan Marcus. Copyright 2009 DreamWorks Theatrical. All Rights Reserved

And judging by the strong response that “Shrek The Musical’ receives most nights at the Broadway Theatre, it would appear that the team from DreamWorks Theatrical achieved their goal.

And as for Mr. Sieber … While he will admits that he can’t go on playing Lord Farquaad forever, Christopher is reluctant to hand this plum of a part over to another actor. To date, the longest that he’s been out of “Shrek The Musical” is two days in a row.

“It’s like you’ve just bought this shiny new car and you don’t want anyone else to drive it,” Sieber concluded. “As long as my body holds out – Again, my knees are fine. It’s my upper mid back that’s kind of a mess right now – I’d love to keep playing this wonderfully likably evil character. “

“Shrek the Musical” continues at NYC’s Broadway Theatre on 53rd Street. For information on DreamWorks Theatrical’s SHREKcation (which includes discounted tickets to this musical as well as coupons which will get you special offers at various restaurants, museums & attractions in the city), please click on this link.

Chris Sieber struts his stuff as Lord Farquaad in Shrek the Musical on Broadway
Photo by Joan Marcus. Copyright 2009 DreamWorks Theatrical. All Rights Reserved

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