In Their New Show, Sherie Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz Look Back on the Last 20 Years
They can handle that…right?
All Norbert Leo Butz wanted was a night of duets. "I'm telling you," he says with an exasperated laugh, "I wanted to do a night of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers and Stevie Nicks, and some sketches. It'll be fun. It'll be easy. And she's like, 'Yeah, I'm not really interested in doing a straight cabaret show.'"
"I would love to be the person who could just get up to sing with him," the self-described "proud three-time Tony loser" Sherie Rene Scott continues, "but I really felt there was a story here, and I didn't want to just get up and say, 'And then we did this show…'"
And that's how a proposed evening of duets at Feinstein's/54 Below became Twohander (returning July 9-28), an agonizing but hysterical, warts-and-all examination of how the stars of The Last Five Years and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels built a messy real-life relationship amid the forced intimacy of having to fall in love eight times a week across multiple years.
"We kept being asked to do really intimate things together and got to know each other really, really well," Butz notes about his last 20 years working with Scott. "Any time you hang with somebody for that long, a story emerges."
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
I saw Twohander in April, and I've been desperate ever since to ask you how true it is. You don't have to answer if you—
Sherie Rene Scott: It's all true. It just didn't…
Norbert Leo Butz: Didn't all happen…
Sherie: In this exact way.
Norbert: It's 100 percent true. But what happens in real life isn't always the most interesting thing for a play.
Sherie: Truth is one thing on the written page, but when you're performing, you have to make it active. So you keep the truth of a situation and heighten it. What happens a lot is that when people see something that really happened, they go, "Well, we know that was made up." But the crazy sh*t? That's the stuff that actually happened.
What made you decide to open your lives up in this way?
Sherie: I'm an old broad, he's an old dude. There's something that we share, and that is, we don't go quietly into the night. It's not interesting to us. We want to keep challenging ourselves as human beings.
I wanted to investigate this workplace relationship, and our friendship, and this male-female dynamic. When you start writing something, you don't know what it's going to become. It became a story about people who love each other in a workplace and find that they're attracted. I think everybody knows how to relate to that.
Norbert: It's a story that is universal, but there's something really specific in it about the process of making theater and working with another actor. How do you imitate love and sex and power onstage when you're dealing with a real human being who keeps coming into your life? I've known this woman since we did Rent together in 1997. Sherie and I have done three fully produced shows and a lot of other work together. I don't have a scene partner or a singing partner who I've ever worked with as much as Sherie.
Sherie: Doing this has caused us both to look over our lives. Norbert gave me an incredible healing when he gave me his side of what his experience with me was for the last 15, 20 years, in a way that we could never talk about before, because we weren't in a safe enough place that we could. It really helped me feel not so crazy, because he'd talk and talk and I was like "Yes! I was thinking about that too, but I couldn't tell you."
Norbert: I just want to say something about Sherie as a writer. I'm only here because I know a great part when I see one, and she wrote me a great part. If somebody were to pitch this idea to us, it would have been like, "You must be insane. There is no f*cking way." But this show makes me laugh at myself and it gives me compassion for the mistakes that we made when we were younger, because she uses humor in a way that is consistently surprising. It allows for us to have a distance from the material, and it allows the audience to have a distance from the material. You can talk about these really tough questions and yet, we all feel safe.
Sherie: You don't worry that these people are doing therapy in front of you. I just wanted it to be sexy, funny, and entertaining, and then sucker-punch them in the gut.
Now that you're back working together, are there more collaborations in the future that you've thought about?
Sherie: I never do that. First of all, I'm not a musical-theater aficionado.
Norbert: I'm gonna make her do Sweeney Todd with me at some point in some iteration.
Sherie: I don't even understand what the parts are. Do we interact onstage?
Norbert: I'll tell you about it later. It's by a man named Stephen Sondheim. He's a young, up-and-coming writer.
Sherie: All right, if we could reconceive it. With a really diverse cast.