By now, Shrek
star Christopher Sieber is used to having people express more interest in certain body parts than in his general well-being.
“It’s never like, ‘How are you?,’ it’s always, ‘How are your knees?’ ” says Sieber, a tall, strapping musical theatre leading man who’s playing the comically diminutive Lord Farquaad in the new stage musical based on the hit animated comedy. “Listen, I’m so padded down there that I don’t have to worry.”
By “down there,” Sieber means his legs, which are folded under and concealed behind him so that Farquaad’s hilariously tiny gams flop around in front of him like sad little marionettes.
“It’s almost like bottom half of me is a puppet that I can control with my knees,” says Sieber, whose big number, “What’s Up, Duloc?” has reportedly been stealing the show in previews. “The little legs work so well, and there are like Size 1 boots on them. They respond so well, you kind of forget that I’m my knees.”
Over the course of the show’s development, including a well-received fall tryout in Seattle, the stage machinery which allows Sieber to scoot around the stage on his knees has “gone through many prototypes,” the actor reports. “The one they’ve just recently developed is more like 10 lbs. than 40 lbs., as it was before.
“I’m not stupid,” he continues. “During workshops and readings of this, I was working with designers almost every day, making sure I’m not going to be crippled for life. If anything, my upper back is what hurts, because I’m holding myself differently.”
In an interesting twist, co-star Brian D’Arcy James, in real life a head shorter than Sieber, is made up and costumed as to look like the hulking, overweight green ogre Shrek.
“He’s got lifts in his shoes and this huge fat suit,” Sieber says of James’ get-up. “The thing is, you can see him in it; he can act through all that stuff.”
As has been reported, “all that stuff” famously takes nearly two hours to put on—a predicament which has led to some good-natured backstage ribbing.
“We have an agreement that we won’t complain to each other about our costumes,” Sieber says with a laugh. “He’s in prosthetic for four hours every day, and I’m on my knees. Sometimes we’ll joke; he’ll say, ‘Do you wanna play Shrek today?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, do you want to play Lord Farquaad?’ ”
’s twisted fairy-tale world isn’t exactly the same absurdist medieval universe of Spamalot
, in which Sieber memorably played a hilarious dumb-blond Sir Galahad, it’s not all that far away.
“I play princes, lords, and knights quite often,” Sieber concedes. “I’m glad I found my niche.”
It’s a pretty broad niche, in fact, given the wide latitude comedy allows.
“It’s almost a gift, because you can get away with a lot of stuff you couldn’t get away with if you were a regular tall person,” Sieber admits of his Shrek
role. “Lord Farquaad is so evil and so small it’s ridiculous. You can go so far with it and be so funny.”
To give some idea exactly what audiences are in store for: At a recent photo shoot with the performers in full costume, Sieber says, “This photographer from Entertainment Weekly
had to put down the camera, he was laughing so hard.”
Sieber describes the “What’s Up, Duloc?” number as “Lord Farquaad’s Vegas lounge act—a little Judy Garland, a little Liberace. You get to see him sing and dance—I can’t believe I’m actually doing it.” Returning the on-his-knees gag, Sieber explains, “When Tim Conway did Dorf On Golf
, he buried himself in the floor. We took that concept, but now I’m also moving around.”
He can’t do everything from that position, but he’s had fun exploring exactly what he can do.
“We spent weeks and weeks looking at certain angles,” Sieber says. “I recently discovered that I can lie down on my side and do that Suzanne Somers Thigh-Master thing with the little legs; it looks really creepy.”
Sieber, who’s been working on this stage version of Shrek
since its earliest readings, says he “can’t wait for a New York audience to see this—this is the longest I’ve been with something I really actually love and believe and am proud of.”
Certainly fans of the movie, including kids, are going to line up for tickets. But unlike some family-oriented shows, the parents might enjoy it just as much.
“This show is for everyone, kind of like the old Warner Bros. cartoons,” Sieber says. “There’s a lot of humor that goes over the kids’ heads, but there are also pratfalls and fart jokes that kids get. It’s the perfect show for families.”
Then again, the concept of “family show” might be broader than is generally thought. Even Spamalot
’s bawdier bits, for instance, didn’t keep away the tyke trade.
“I have a friend who lives in Portland, Ore.,” Sieber says. “His son is six, and he saw Spamalot
when he was four and a half. Now every Halloween he dresses as Sir Galahad.”
After he sees Shrek
and Sieber's preposterously small Lord Farquaad, that youngster might have to invest in a more elaborate costume.
Click here for more information on Shrek the Musical.