The gay golden boys of the Great White Way have gone green for Shrek the Musical. Broadway's new adaptation of William Steig's 1990 book and DreamWorks' Academy Award-winning animated film series about a misunderstood ogre and the inhabitats of Far, Far Away opens December 14 at the Broadway Theatre, reuniting Avenue Q director Jason Moore, 38, with his Tony-nominated puppet master John Tartaglia, 30, as Pinocchio. Christopher Sieber, 39, a groundbreaking gay dad in ABC's short-lived series It's All Relative and a Tony nominee for his work in Monty Python's Spamalot, also rules the stage as the diminutive Lord Farquaad. Once upon a time not so long ago, these three men joined The Advocate for a three-martini meal at midtown Manhattan's actor hangout Angus McIndoe.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate: Avenue Q and Spamalot both include gay-themed musical numbers. What's
the gayest moment in Shrek the Musical?
Jason Moore: There's a scene with Chris shirtless in a bathtub and a hooded guy as his manicurist.
Christopher Sieber: All my minions are well-built with big packages. You don't really know what's going on with Lord Farquaad's sexuality, and I like that.
John Tartaglia: There's also the "Freak Flag" number, where I get to say, "I'm wood, I'm good, get used to it!"
Moore: One Seattle review [during the show's pre-Broadway run there] said it looked like a West Hollywood street parade.
Tartaglia: Pinocchio's ashamed to be a fairy-tale creature. He's basically a self-hating puppet that hasn't come to terms with the fact that he'll never be a real boy.
Moore: Early on in rehearsals we thought, What's the model for someone who isn't admitting something that he obviously is?
Tartaglia: Even when everyone else is fine with it, but he himself is still so afraid?
Sieber: Mario Lopez? Oh, my God! [Laughs]
Moore: Pinocchio is a real embodiment of the theme of the show — owning and loving yourself for who you are.
the Christian right might say, you're
sneaking in your evil gay agendas.
Sieber: Yes, we're trying to recruit as many as we can. I want that toaster!
Shrek films did come under attack by conservative groups for promoting
cross-dressing and transgenderism because Pinocchio wore panties and
a stepsister, voiced by Larry King, was mannish.
Does your Pinocchio wear panties, John?
Tartaglia: It's in my subtext. [Laughs] As for the other thing, it's like Tinky Winky: There was no agenda. It was truly funny to have a stepsister who talked like Larry King. It's comedy, people.
Sieber: I know I learned cross-dressing from Warner Bros. cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Sylvester! People have gotten so serious about things that aren't that serious. Gays aren't trying to take over the world. [Leans in toward tape recorder] Or are we?
Moore: The fact that Chris liked to dress up like Tinker Bell till the age of 5 doesn't mean anything.
have you heard any dirty jokes about the fact that your costume requires you to
perform on your knees for the entire show?
Sieber: Oh, like, "Is this the first time you've had to be on your knees after you got the job?" Ha, ha, ha! Oh, keep 'em coming! The knees for me are like the nose for John.
Tartaglia: In Seattle people would be like, "Lie to me, Pinocchio, lie to me!" But I'll be the first one to show off my nose.
and Chris, you're both in relationships, but do guys still slip you their phone
numbers at the stage door?
Sieber: Sadly, I'm not Cheyenne Jackson, so I've only gotten a few. You do get guys touching, kissing, and wanting to hug you. At first that bothered me, but now I take what I can get. [Laughs] I understand that some of these guys are from Nebraska and they identify with us and feel like they know us. But you have to set boundaries — unless they're really cute.
Tartaglia: When I was doing Avenue Q, I was an openly gay man playing a bizarre gay character for half the show, but most of the people who would flirt with me were teen girls — in a boy-bandy way. I guess they felt safe with me: "You work with puppets, so you must be gentle and know how to sew."
Sieber: "And you have really soft hands!"
Moore: I really need to start walking out the stage door, because that doesn't happen to directors.
Tartaglia: Oh, you have your gay fan club. People always ask me, "What's Jason Moore like?"
Sieber: Jason has really soft hands.
you'll face this question when casting the upcoming musical version of
Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, which you're going to direct: Should gay
actors play gay roles?
Moore: Good romances are often a product of actual chemistry between straight actors. We have talked about that with Tales of the City; in that particular case, where there's a sexualized situation, gay actors might understand it better than straight actors. Good actors can act, but there's also a certain kind of gay romantic chemistry that must take place.
Sieber: As far as lead gay roles in Hollywood movies, they usually go with a straight movie star because — and I'm doing quotations in the air, which is so disgusting, but I'm doing it anyway — it provides straight actors with a "challenge."
Tartaglia: I knew that's what you were going to say. Ugh!
Sieber: "How did you ever portray a gay person?" That drives me up a wall. Like Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain: "It was the most challenging role he ever had!" Really?
Moore: But, come on, gay characters do make great roles for everyone because there's usually inner or external conflict based on the fact that they're gay. I'm just playing devil's advocate.
the theater community, which is more gay-inclusive, wouldn't you come under
criticism for casting straight actors in the lead gay roles?
Moore: If they were good, it wouldn't matter.
Tartaglia: Just because you're gay doesn't necessarily mean you understand a gay love affair more than a straight person would.
Sieber: If they were straight and knew what the hell they were doing, I wouldn't have a problem with them getting a gay role over me. Great, knock it out of the ballpark, mister! The first time I got pissed about that was in the movie Six Degrees of Separation when Will Smith refused to kiss the guy, so they had that weird camera shot just showing the back of the guy's head. I was like, Really? Calm down, Will.
you worked with straight actors who had difficulties with gay material?
Moore: I directed an episode of Dawson's Creek where Kerr Smith, who played the gay character, Jack, had to kiss a boy at prom. It was the first episode of television that I had directed, and it was the first teenage boy kiss on network television. Kerr is straight, and he had a problem with it.
Tartaglia: Did he have a problem, or did his agent have a problem?
Moore: He had the problem.
you deal with it?
Moore: The prom took place on a boat, and it was a 15-hour shooting day in the middle of the night. I scheduled the kiss as the last shot of the night so that when we got to it he would be like, "Let's just get this over with." If we'd started with that scene, there would've been hemming and hawing.
does it feel to have "openly gay actor" precede your names in
Sieber: That has got to go. It doesn't need to be there anymore. People should know I'm gay, and most people do, and that's fantastic. I've done two covers of The Advocate and I've been in the Out 100. We got it. Now let's just say "Christopher Sieber."
Tartaglia: And "John Tartaglia." We say we want to be accepted like everybody else, and yet we push it so much further than it needs to be, it becomes almost a liability. It's funny to me that if Pete Wentz says he likes gay people, he practically gets an award. Why?
Sieber: Like he's a hero! Although he is very cute.
Tartaglia: We've gotten to a point that we're so comfortable being gay — with our own channels and magazines and everything — and it's wonderful that there are enough of us out there who want to join together. But at the same time, are we also saying that we're so different from everyone —
Sieber: That we have to preface our names? If you're going to go there, why don't you just say "Big pole-smoking, fudge-packing actor Christopher Sieber"? My partner, Kevin, is going to kill me if that ever gets printed. [Laughs]
you starred alongside Clay Aiken in Spamalot. What are your thoughts on the
impact of his recent coming-out?
Sieber: Coming out in People's apparently the way to go. "Yep, I'm gay." "Yes, I'm gay." What's next? "Yes, I enjoy cock."
Tartaglia: That would sell.
Sieber: I guess I can talk about it now, but Clay's a dear friend of mine, and of course I knew. He was quite open with me, but he has a lot to protect. When he came out I was happy for him, but I was also scared because his fans are very possessive and so demanding. I understand why he has a bodyguard. I was fearful for Clay's life for a moment there when he came out. I'm not kidding.
Tartaglia: There's a secret code in our business; everyone knows who's gay and who isn't. But everyone needs to find his or her own path, and Clay just needed to find the right time. When The Advocate asked me if I'd come out during Avenue Q, I said, "Why not?" I wasn't worried about how it was going to hurt my career, but I'm also not trying to sell millions of records to 13-year-olds.
members of Broadway's gay mafia, did you have flowers delivered to his Spamalot
Sieber: I texted him and said, "Good for you. Welcome home."
The Advocate, December 2008 issue.