THE LEADING MEN: Pros and Cons

The Leading Men   THE LEADING MEN: Pros and Cons March brings St. Patrick’s Day, so here are three "Leading Men" blessed with more lucky charms than a leprechaun: Norbert Leo Butz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Christopher Sieber (Spamalot) and Tyler Maynard (Altar Boyz).
Norbert Leo Butz
Norbert Leo Butz

THE BUTZ OF ALL JOKES
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek’s new musical about con men, is such good clean fun that it might as well be called Scam-a-lot. Based on the 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, it’s the mischievous story of Lawrence, a big-time British swindler on the French Riviera, and Freddy, a small-time American crook who craves "Great Big Stuff." As a test of their skills and wills, they each try to woo and win a soap heiress named Christina, but which Scoundrel will clean up? Directed by Jack O’Brien, it opens March 3 at the Imperial.

It’s criminal what John Lithgow can get away with as Lawrence, the high-class con man, but Norbert Leo Butz, 38, really steals the show with a Tony worthy tour de force as the hilariously hyper Freddy. Butz says, "One fan described him as ‘a four-year-old on a sugar high,’ and that’s pretty apropos." Though he is literally bouncing off the walls and all over the set, this Broadway veteran of Wicked, Rent and Thou Shalt Not admits, "I’m scared to death of a big old physical comedy like this. I really hadn’t done one since doing Molière in college." But Lithgow raves, "Norbert’s incredible. The word is ‘quicksilver.’ And we’ve become such friends!"

The 5-foot-7 actor from St. Louis also is a divorced dad with two adorable daughters, Clara, seven, and Maggie, almost five. Their photos are prominently posted in his dressing room. He boasts, "I’m so incredibly lucky to be their father."

Question: Congrats! You’re phenomenal. Had you seen the movie?
Norbert Leo Butz: Years ago when I was a student in London. I went to an all-night Steve Martin film festival. I’m a huge fan. I love "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "The Jerk," "All of Me" and "Pennies From Heaven." He’s such a fearless performer, and I love how he uses his body. He’s one of our great actors, and he’s one of the great clowns, like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Milton Berle and Danny Kaye.

Q: Is Steve Martin is coming to see the show?
Butz: I have no idea, but I don’t want to know if he’s in the audience. I wouldn’t be able to leave my dressing room. You have to understand that when I was ten, I memorized his entire album of "A Wild and Crazy Guy." Q: How do you think your show compares with the movie?
Butz: It’s a great movie, but it’s only truly funny when Steve Martin does his brilliant riffing. Our show is an outright farce. Michael Caine was the straight man in the film, but Lawrence is a funny character with the great John Lithgow.

Q: What’s your take on Freddy? Are you anything like him?
Butz: Freddy’s very smart, but he’s filled with wild impulses but no follow-through. He’s far more confident and reckless than I am. And far more neurotic, and I’m pretty neurotic. Both Lawrence and Freddy have huge secrets and they’ve kept any personal relationships at bay. They are the essence of con men. They can pack up and move on to the next gig. When they meet, they’re strangely attracted to each other in a non-sexual way. Throughout the course of the evening, they let down their walls and you see their true selves. And, that’s the story of every great comedy.

Q: In "Great Big Stuff," you’re rapping. Ever done that before?
Butz: No. This is my professional rapping debut. I’m a huge fan of Outkast, Lauren Hill and Eminem. Freddy loves the limelight. I said to John: "This is the story of two crooks who’d rather be singing and dancing on Broadway."

Q: Freddy acts outrageous when he poses as Lawrence’s brother, Ruprecht. How’s it feel licking Lithgow’s face and dry-humping him?
Butz: It’s not as fun as kissing the girls in Wicked. But all that crazy stuff has a purpose. I’m not just shaking my ass. Lawrence is about to be married off to a woman who’s nuts, so we have to scare her off.

Q: What’s it like working with a comedy legend like Lithgow?
Butz: I’ve loved him on film and TV for years. But the last thing I saw him in was The Retreat From Moscow on Broadway. It was an amazing performance, and it struck me so deeply. I was shaking in my seat, so my last image of John was of this repressed Englishman. He’s got such range. We liked each other from the get-go. We both enjoy juvenile humor. But he’s also witty and well-read. I especially love doing the last number in the show with John; it’s a thrill beyond words.

Q: You’re an actor, so do your girls want to perform, too?
Butz: Oh, God, yes. They’re still mad at me for leaving Wicked. They thought I was gonna do that show forever. They saw it 10 or 15 times. I loved them seeing it because it’s got great role models for girls.

Q: When we interviewed Jai Rodriguez from TV’s "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," we asked him which Broadway star he’d like to make over, and he picked you because "I wanna see him in his boxers."
Butz: (Laughs.) Jai’s probably already seen me in my boxers. We did Rent together. You know what? I could use a makeover. My girls have turned me into a tired old dad before my time. Let’s start from the feet and work our way up.

For more information, visit www.dirtyrottenscoundrelsthemusical.com.

‘SPAMALOT’S’ SIEBER: HE LIKES THE KNIGHT LIFE
Spamalot is "lovingly ripped off" from the madcap movie of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and follows the fun-filled and pun-filled adventures of King Arthur (Tim Curry) and his square-jawed knights of the Round Table. With an insanely zany book and score by Eric Idle and John DuPrez, the giddy romp co-stars Hank Azaria and David Hyde-Pierce. Directed by Mike Nichols, it opens March 17 at the Shubert.

Christopher Sieber plays the strapping Sir Dennis Galahad, and he’s truly a knight to remember, especially when he sings with the lovely Lady of the Lake (the sensational Sara Ramirez). Their satirical love duet of "The Song That Goes Like This" goes like this: "[It’s] a sentimental song that casts a spell; [the audience] will hum along; we’ll overact like hell." Sieber says, "Sara and I fell in love instantly. We make fun of every big overly dramatic musical from the eighties, especially Phantom. We’ve got a foggy lake, a chandelier and we’re in a boat." And in a nod to Les Misérables, he even does a quick Colm Wilkinson impression that brings it home.

The 6-foot-2 actor from St. Paul, MN, also plays Prince Herbert’s father and the Black Knight, who keeps losing his limbs and is easily disarmed. "Unless you read your Playbill, not a lot of people know that’s also me because I’m disguised by Tim Hatley’s amazing costumes. I like to read Talkin’ Broadway, and the postings there make me pee in my pants because they’re so funny. I remember someone posted that I was wasted in Spamalot because I come on only in Act I as Galahad and at the end of the show. Well, I’m working my ass off in Act II. That cracks me up."

Sieber, 36, says his kooky co-stars also crack him up: "Everyone’s beyond talented. Tim Curry is a doll. David Hyde-Pierce is comic brilliance. Hank Azaria is like an adorable seven-year-old who makes up stories and does voices. Eric Idle is a comedy god. And Mike Nichols is heaven. He’s a teddy bear and the sweetest man. I read something about Eric and Mike feuding, but that’s crap. They’ve been friends for years."

"Holy Grail" is one of Sieber’s "favorite movies of all time," but he almost didn’t get cast in Spamalot. After arriving from L.A. on a redeye flight, he slept through his audition. But he got a second shot when Douglas Sills left the show. "I got a call at 7:30 AM and was asked if I could meet Mike Nichols at noon. Sure. I didn’t have any music, but the only ‘heroic’ song I could think of was ‘Agony’ from Into the Woods, so I sang both parts. It was a little like ‘Sybil,’ but they laughed and I got cast." (By the way, he’s never eaten Spam a lot — or even tried it, but adds, "Hormel rocks!")

Sieber’s other Broadway credits include Chicago and Beauty and the Beast, where he met his good-looking partner of four years, Kevin Burrows (who’s on tour with Evita). The two were saluted by Senator Hillary Clinton and honored by Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays [PFLAG] as the out couple of the year, and made the cover of The Advocate in its gay marriage issue. "I’m still optimistic, but [gay marriage] might be 20 years off. Republicans use the gay issue as a threat to America, which is ridiculous. But to us, we’re already married."

For more information, visit www.montypythonsspamalot.com.

MAKING HIS MARK IN ‘ALTAR BOYZ’
Altar Boyz is a hilarious, heaven-sent musical about a Christian boy band, now at Dodger Stages, and it’s blessed with so much talent that it’s a sin. It’s got toe-tapping tunes like "Jesus Called Me on His Cell Phone" by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, a breezy book by Kevin Del Aguila, deft direction by Stafford Arima and kickass choreography by Christopher Gatelli. And bravo for the Boyz: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham. They sing and dance perfectly ’N Sync, thanks to Scott Porter, Tyler Maynard, Andy Karl, Ryan Duncan and David Josefsberg.

But if one Altar Boy exemplifies the show’s always blissful, but never blasphemous, tone, it’s Mark. And Maynard is a riot, playing him with all the lightness and sweetness of a Hostess Twinkie. "Mark is so innocent and naïve," says the six-foot blond from New Carlisle, OH. "He’s just a young boy from Greenville, Ohio, and I grew up 15 minutes from there. When Mark was young, he got made fun of a lot. Maybe he does have a high voice. Maybe he does walk a little funny. Maybe he does wear things other kids wouldn’t wear, which reminds me of me. Matthew stepped in and really helped him out, so Mark finds himself attracted to him. Mark doesn’t think of himself as gay, and there are references to him perhaps being homosexual, but that’s the gag."

Though Maynard, 26, is not Catholic, he went to Bible school and shares Mark’s belief in a higher power — and a love of boy bands. "My first concert was New Kids on the Block. Jordan was my favorite. I thought he sang the best. And I love the Jackson Five. I also enjoying listening to Laura Branigan, MeShell NdegeOcello and old-school Liza Minnelli, like Flora, the Red Menace." As for the pop songs in Altar Boyz, he says, "You can take ‘Something About You’ and put it on the radio. It’s gorgeous, and Gary and Michael have done a brilliant job with this score." [The cast album will be coming out on Sh-K-Boom around April 1.] Besides singing up a storm, he says, "We’re all dancing our asses off. It’s a workout. I’ve never sweated so much. I’ve lost five to seven pounds. But Chris Gatelli is the next big thing in choreography. And his assistant, Tammy Colucci, is unbelievable."

By coincidence, Maynard plays Jiminy, a young gay singer in a Christian band, in Todd Solondz’s new movie, "Palindromes," which opens April 13. "Solondz is one of the most brilliant men I will ever get to work with. And it was amazing because I had scenes with Debra Monk, who played my adoptive mom. I urge everyone to see it."

Maynard moved to New York in 2001, and except for a four-month stint as a bellman at the Hudson Hotel, he’s been a busy actor. His credits include Mamma Mia!, the workshop of Good Vibrations at Vassar and the tour of Disney’s On the Record. But Altar Boyz is his favorite show, and camaraderie among the cast, which will be featured in an upcoming Playgirl magazine, is strong: "Our show has a sweet message, and it’s about brotherhood and staying true to yourself. I love these guys so much. We’re so tight. This is the real deal."

For more information, visit www.altarboyz.com. WHERE THE GUYS ARE
When it comes to a gourmet wedding, Aaron Lazar’s takes the cake. The Broadway hunk (Oklahoma! and Phantom of the Opera) and his beautiful bride, LeAnn Garris, were chosen out of hundreds of entries as the winner of the "Food Network Caters Your Wedding" contest. So after they tied the knot last Nov. 7 in Wilmington, NC, the happy couple and hundreds of guests gorged on goodies created by celebrity chefs like Tyler Florence, Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck. Lazar, who opens March 5 as Gabey in the English National Opera’s On the Town in London, says, "The whole weekend was a dream!" But how did the chefs whip up a palate-pleasing menu that reflects the tastes of both a Northern Jew (Lazar) and a Southern Baptist (Garris)? For the real dish, catch the "Food Network Caters Your Wedding" special, which airs March 13 at 9 PM. . . .

Gavin Creel (La Cage aux Folles) promises "the best of times" at Prom King, his concert of pop originals and 1980s covers of Michael Jackson and Chaka Khan, on March 7 at 8 PM at Second Stage, 307 W. 43rd St. (212-246-4422). The one-time homecoming king says, "We’ll have a funky band, bodacious dancers and special guests like Shoshana Bean and Michael Benjamin Washington. It’ll be like the cool prom you wished you had." . . .

Finally, in the new Producers film, guess who’s springing into "Springtime for Hitler" as the Lead Tenor Stormtrooper? John Barrowman! The Broadway star says, "I’ll be the blond ‘Hitler Youth’ fronting the number. I am so excited. I was called out of the blue by Susan Stroman and Mel Brooks, and I’m honored and surprised. I didn’t even have to audition. How cool is that?" Asked to name his favorite Brooks moment on film, he says, "It’s got to be ‘Blazing Saddles’ when they are all around the campfire farting. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!"

Got comments or questions? E-mail me at waymanwong@hotmail.com.

Until next month, let’s hear it for the "boys"!

Wayman Wong edits entertainment for The New York Daily News. He has been a movie and theater critic for The San Francisco Examiner, a writer for The Sondheim Review and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.

Christopher Sieber with Spam and
Christopher Sieber with Spam and Photo by Ben Strothmann
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