Final Bow: Looking Backwards and Forwards With Broadway's Dead Accounts Star Norbert Leo Butz
The two-time Tony Award winner on food, family, Wicked fans, and the upcoming revival of The Last Five Years.
Every show ends sometime (unless you're Phantom), so before the cast takes their final bow, there are a few things we want to know.
When two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz takes the stage of the Music Box Theatre in Theresa Rebeck's Broadway comedy Dead Accounts, he does so with the speed of a runaway freight train and intensity that never lets up. Butz, whose resume includes How I Learned to Drive, and the original companies of The Last Five Years, Wicked, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, plays Jack, the prodigal son of a Midwestern family who has returned home with a major, expensive secret. It's a role that requires him to do a lot of eating. A lot of eating.
In this edition of Final Bow, Butz tells us how food makes a family, explains why an errant kidney bean almost caused him to leave the stage, and gives us a sneak peek at his very busy 2013.
1. What is your favorite line that you delivered?
I like this one joke where I say, 'Christ Mom you had too many girls, I cannot keep them straight. And then naming two of them Sharon and Karen, that was almost malicious, frankly.' The audience enjoys it.
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. So tell us…
a. What's the best one from your show?
b. Since there probably is one, what's the punch line of your cast's most unprintable inside joke?
We commiserate about all the indigestion we have [from eating so much on stage]. Gastrointestinal humor is our favorite topic.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
With so much eating, to get the lines out and not have food fly out of your mouth, through the air, and land on your scene partner's shoulder is incredibly difficult. One time, I got a kidney bean stuck in my sinus passage and almost had to leave the stage.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
There haven't been presents, but I'm always astonished by how many people come to the stage door with Wicked memorabilia for me to sign. There are still people out there trying to get Original Broadway cast members of Wicked to sign stuff!
5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
Mike Nichols came backstage and he had lovely things to say to all of us.
6. In a given performance week, what are you eating, and how much food do you actually consume on stage?
It's all healthier versions of what it looks like. [Per show] I eat half a pint of vegan ice cream, an organic hot dog on a bun with chili and cheese, two slices of pizza, and four Seltzers. I'm starting to feel a little nauseous after performances. You have to eat next to nothing all day, or some raw food, like veggies, to balance it out.
7. Were Jack and his family people that you recognized when you were reading Theresa Rebeck's script?
Very much so. Jack reminded me a lot of parts of myself and brothers of mine. I have seven brothers. Jack is that hyper-verbal, really ambitious Midwesterner who goes to New York with a chip on his shoulder like he has something to prove. Our cast bonding always seemed to involve food. Like in any Broadway show, you spend all of your meals together, and this is a cast of real foodies, myself included. There's tons of snacking, tons of meals out in restaurants, and lots and lots of laughter.
8. On January 15, you will debut your new solo CD, Memory and Mayhem, recorded live during your recent concert at 54 Below. Can you tell us how you formed such an eclectic track list, which runs the gamut from Jason Robert Brown to The Civil Wars.
It was pretty organic. Half of the songs are ones that I've always wanted to sing and have loved for a long time. I'm a really big Tom Waits fan, so I wanted to do a Tom Waits song. I'm a big Van Morrison fan, so [I knew] there would be some of his in there. The other half of the set were songs that fit the thematic idea I was looking at, which developed the more I started rehearsing and arranging them.
9. We have to ask: what are your thoughts about the upcoming revival of The Last Five Years?
It's fantastic! It's an amazing piece, and Jamie and Cathy are two of the best roles out there. It makes you feel like, ‘Wow, where has the time gone?' I'm looking forward to listening to it and not performing it. That was the hardest thing I've done in my whole life, non-stop singing in a high belt. But it was a real gift and every song is beautiful.
10. Name the number one leading man role - in a play or musical - that you haven't yet played and really want to.
I'm always so self-conscious of this question, because I don't really have one. I feel like I'm less than a legitimate actor because I don't have an answer. I know actors who have this role, and walk around with it in their back pocket. I just really love what I'm working on at the moment. I am really looking forward to Big Fish [which will be presented at Chicago's Oriental Theatre in April]. This is a role that guys are going to be dying to get their hands on, with a real, melodic, lyrical score. I've been turning down a lot of stuff that doesn't challenge me musically. I was a singer first, and became an actor in college. Big Fish has a great, big, lush, beautiful, beautiful score, and I get to sing so much. I just wanted to be challenged as a musician. I've been working on it for a long time, and it's a really huge, epic, fantastical show.