"I am what I am, I don't want praise, I don't want pity
I bang my own drum; some think it's noise, I think it's pretty
And so what if I love each sparkle and each bangle
Why not try to see things from a different angle
Your life is a sham 'til you can shout out loud
I am what I am"
— Zaza, "La Cage aux Folles"
Thousands of sequins and countless yards of lamé are about to be rolled into Segerstrom Hall for the arrival of Jerry Herman's "La Cage aux Folles." Herman also is the composer of such iconic musicals as "Hello, Dolly!" and "Mame."
The current Broadway touring production stars George Hamilton as Georges and Christopher Sieber as Albin. Georges manages a night club in Saint-Tropez, where his partner Albin is the starring act as Zaza.
Hilarity ensues when Georges' son from a long-ago tryst, Jean-Michel, brings his fiancee's ultra-conservative family home to meet the parents — her father is the leader of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party.
(Film fans may recognize the plot of "La Cage" from a related film that saw substantial box office success: "The Birdcage.")
Sieber's current song-and-dance role is one of the most demanding on Broadway — only seconded, perhaps, to one of his other breakout roles: that of Lord Farquaad in "Shrek: The Musical," in which the actor performs the entire show on his knees to evidence Farquaad's vertically challenged stature.
Sieber is best known to general audiences as Kevin Burke in the sitcom "Two of a Kind," with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, but has a vast theater pedigree, including originating the role of Sir Dennis Galahad in"Spamalot" on Broadway and in London.
"The thing about 'Shrek' that I love so much is, they were so good to me and let me find so much stuff in my character," he said. "[Creator] David Lindsay-Abaire asked me to collaborate with him. He asked me if I had any good ideas and whatnot. I would just go and do something or say something, and he would say, 'Now that's in the show.' I really helped create a good portion of Farquaad.
"However, I only do shows now that apparently hurt me. 'Spamalot' was joy on earth. For a year and a half, we could not wait for the set to break so we could go out. We got to the theatre an hour early [to socialize]. That was just a heaven cast; that was a miracle cast.
"I really do like my 'Spamalot' and my 'Shrek' and I am enjoying my Zaza, but it really does take your life away. You have to be a good boy, and save your voice, especially for songs like 'I Am What I Am.' 'Shrek' and 'Spamalot are two of my favorite things that I've ever created."
Sieber literally walked into the role of Georges when he first began "La Cage."
"I think I may be the only actor who's played both [leads] during the same show. I was going to go back to the Broadway show of 'Chicago,' playing Billy Flynn, which I had done several years prior. I wasn't familiar with the new show, so I said, lemme get a ticket. I'm in line at the Ambassador Theatre and the phone rings. It's my agent. He says, 'Don't see "Chicago" today; you're going to see "La Cage" today.'
"Harvey Fierstein was playing at the time right across the street at the Longacre. This was right at the time that Jeff Tambor had left because of his hip; I had no idea. Chris Hoch, the understudy, was onstage. I went backstage after the show, and Harvey dragged me into the dressing room. He said, 'Are you gonna do the show? I want you to play Georges opposite me.' Harvey and I have been friends for 20 years. I said yes, and seven days later I'm on Broadway, starring opposite Harvey Fierstein — name above the title, the whole schlemiel.
"Our chemistry was great; we got amazing reviews. It was like a gift from heaven. But we only lasted about nine weeks (laughs) and then the producer talked about a national tour. Harvey said he had other things to do, and they asked me, 'Would you be interested in playing Zaza?' I thought, it's with George Hamilton, and it's one of those parts that I think an actor should do, and that's how it happened. You know what? George is 72 and he's kicking it; he's been doing it for nine months.
"This is my second time on national tour; the first time was 'Meet Me in St. Louis,'" he said. "When you're 22 to 23, and your metabolism is like a bunny rabbit, you don't need much sleep; now it matters. I need food that's not gonna make me fat, and rest is something that I constantly need. It's physically and vocally exhausting; it takes a lot out of you. I always say, for three and a half hours, I never stop; we have three bathroom breaks built in, and I really don't ever leave the stage. Once I'm on, I don't stop. We don't even have a real intermission."
"La Cage" has seen its share of controversy over the years, but remains a Broadway standard that has seen several revivals and has been performed around the world.
"The message is all about family," Sieber said. "It's not a conventional family, but this show is about who you love. It's so funny, because it's so timely now because of all the political garbage that's going on right now. And being on tour, 99.9% of the audience is fantastic. The people we meet are great. I think it's the talking heads on TV and the politicians who seem to have a problem, not the people.
"If you like a good old musical, come and see us, because you're going to have a blast. Georges is terrific; I am amazing."
If You Go
What: "La Cage aux Folles"
When: July 24 to Aug. 5
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Cost: $22.50 and up