It's "New York theater hunks on the road" as Chris Sieber stars in Company in L.A. and Matt Bogart returns to the D.C. stage in Orpheus Descending.
Christopher Sieber will never be labeled a slacker. Aside from co-starring as a gay dad in the ABC sitcom It's All Relative this past season, the famously hunky, charming, and talented actor recently did a stint as lawyer Billy Flynn in the Broadway production of Kander and Ebb's Chicago. And as soon as that gig was over on Sunday, May 2, he jetted off to Los Angeles to begin rehearsals for the leading role of Robert in the Reprise! production of the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical Company, which had its official opening last night.
"It's been a whirlwind," says Chris. "I did my final performance of Chicago, went home and packed, and got on a plane the next day. I got here around 10:30 on Monday night, turned around and went to rehearsal for Company the next morning. I really had to switch gears from Billy to Bobby!"
He describes his Chicago experience as "an absolute ball. It was interesting playing a character like that because I normally don't get to play someone who's such a manipulator. And the cast they have now is great. I've gone into a few long-running Broadway shows where the company is kind of tired so they tend to bitch and complain a little bit, but everyone at Chicago loves their job so much. They're so on their game and the show just soars because of them. Everybody still gives 125% every single night."
As to his role in Company, Chris says, "It's a very lonely part -- not just because Bobby's using his friends and substances and all that to avoid commitment but also because of the way the part is written. You really are by yourself a lot and you just have to fit into these other people's lives." When I mention that some performers have had difficulty with the role because it's so reactive, Chris replies, "That is the hardest thing to do -- just kind of sit there and listen to everyone for two hours and 20 minutes. Well, there's more to it than that, but you know what I mean. It's a challenge."
Company is about many things but mostly about marriage. Knowing that Chris is openly gay and in a committed relationship with actor Kevin Burrows, I ask him if he felt that the musical speaks to gay people in a different way than it speaks to heterosexuals. "I would say that it's universal because the characters are so familiar," he replies. "Everybody knows somebody in this show. We all know people like Harry and Sarah, who enjoy fighting in front of their friends but who really adore each other. Bobby is the single guy who gets to see all the different aspects of marriage: Sometimes it's great and sometimes it sucks. I think he wants to be committed to someone but he doesn't want all the garbage that comes along with that. He wants the love and the good times, but whenever things start to get a little rocky with someone, he bails."
Do Chris and his partner have any plans for a formal wedding, whether in Massachusetts or elsewhere? "We've discussed it," he says. "If we were to do it, it would be a very quiet, private thing. For gay people, of course, marriage is important if only in terms of equal rights. I think that's the bottom line. Marriage means different things to different people. The husbands and the wives in Company have all found a way to make it work -- even Peter and Susan, who get divorced but continue to live together anyway. That's what works for them. A lot of people say that Bobby is probably gay -- or, at least, they used to say that back in the '70s -- but he's not. He's just got commitment issues. I'll tell you, I've sung 'Being Alive' before but never in the context of the show. The first time I rehearsed it in context, oh my God! I couldn't get through the song, I was crying so hard. For the first couple of days, I cried every time I sang it. Then I said to myself, 'I have to disconnect or else I'm going to fall apart in front of the audience.' That song is a grand slam."
Matt Bogart certainly doesn't need to leave town to find work in the theater. This strikingly handsome young actor has already had leads in the Broadway productions of Miss Saigon and Smokey Joe's Café in addition to having performed the role of Radames in Disney's Aida many times as a standby for Adam Pascal. He's been featured in the York Theatre Company's "Musicals in Mufti" productions of Wish You Were Here and Fanny, and he put together and performed a terrific show of his own that was a big hit at Ars Nova and at Joe's Pub. Yet Matt has also found the time to make a name for himself in regional theater, most notably in our nation's capitol, where he's currently appearing as Val Xavier in the Arena Stage production of Tennessee Williams's Orpheus Descending.
For several years now, he has been trekking down to D.C. to play juicy roles. "Joe Calarco hired me to do Terry in Side Show at the Signature Theatre down there in 2000," Matt tells me. "It was one of the first regional productions of that show and it was very successful. Then I booked Aida and I had to leave Side Show a week early. I stayed with Aida for two and a half years but, because I was a standby, they let me out to do other things. I got to do Company at the Kennedy Center and Carousel at Paper Mill [in Millburn, New Jersey], plus I recorded a CD. Aida was a really good job for that period of time but, eventually, I decided that I don't need to be standing by anymore; I need to be doing stuff, whether it's out of town or not. So I've been doing a lot of regional theater and most of it has been in D.C."
In Company, presented in 2002 as part of the Kennedy Center's Stephen Sondheim Celebration, Matt had the relatively small role of Paul, but that production in particular and the celebration as a whole turned out so magnificently well that he was thrilled to participate. Another thrill came when he got to perform "Getting Married Today" from the show with Alice Ripley at the Kennedy Center Honors as a tribute to the much married (and much divorced) Elizabeth Taylor. When the event was later telecast, Matt had the unforgettable experience of hearing his name announced on national TV by no less a personage than Walter Cronkite.
"That night was amazing," he says. "Everyone's there for the right reasons. What's great about the Kennedy Center Honors is that they celebrate these peoples' lives -- the entire arc of what they've done contributed to society and to the arts. It doesn't matter if people's politics don't agree; it's a neutral playing field and they spend a lot of money making it a very upscale event. They bring in as many movie stars and celebrities as they can to pay homage to the honorees. I was very low on the totem pole but happy to be part of it as a principal performer. I got to share a dressing room with Burt Bacharach and Brian Stokes Mitchell, for God's sake! And I got to talk to people like John Travolta and John Cougar Mellencamp back stage."
With things like that happening for him in D.C., it's easy to understand why Matt has been spending so much time in the city and its environs. In 2003 alone, he played Starbuck in the Signature Theater production of 110 in the Shade and Lancelot in the Arena Stage's Camelot, earning a Helen Hayes Award nomination for the latter performance. "I think they're able to do very interesting things in D.C. because the shows usually have short runs and also because they're not bogged down by the finances that rule New York theater," Matt remarks. "Luckily for us actors, D.C. is only four or five hours away and we can get there by train or car. It's become my home away from home."