NORBERT LEO BUTZ SINGING TORCH SONGS FOR A PANDEMIC is a tonic for the soul at age 54 below
Norbert Leo But is an actor who is difficult to label. It’s hard to believe that Jamie Wellerstein, Alfie Doolittle, Paddy Chayefsky, Agent Carl Hanratty, Freddy Benson Edward Bloom, and Fiyero all came from the same brain space. And yet that very chameleon-like versatility was the hallmark of his Broadway career. Tonight at 54 Below, on his show Norbert Leo Butz SINGING SONGS FROM THE FLAME FOR A PANDEMIC, he had only one character to play, a charming, if at times complicated, actor named Norbert. It was the music itself that showed chameleon versatility tonight. It was mostly rock, but it ranged from Bruce Springsteen to Neil Young, Ron Sexsmith, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, Fleetwood Mac and Neil Diamond.
Norbert Léo Butz ( The last five years, Wicked, Dirty rotten rascals, Enron, Catch me if you can, Big Fish, My Fair Lady) is a fantastic storyteller. His two Tony Awards bear witness to this. Her story tonight was, as the title suggests, about the pandemic, yes, but most of all, it was about her first love: music. A love he discovered while studying studies as a child with a piano teacher who was not too fond of children. While practicing Chopin and Czerny, he was distracted by the sounds of Neil Diamond and Bruce Springsteen coming from his brothers bedroom in the basement. He has 6 brothers, 11 siblings in total. It didn’t take long for classical music to fall apart. He paid homage to that distraction from long ago, Springsteen, with “Brilliant Disguise”.
He spent much of the pandemic separated from his family, working on a project in Vancouver. The separation was not easy, and it was the music that was the touchstone that brought it through. This feeling of isolation was beautifully summed up in Foo Fighter’s “Learning to Fly”. He used the Canadian songwriter, Ron Sexsmith’s song “There’s Gold in Them Hills” almost as a mantra during those lonely months. He also paid tribute to the most famous of Canadian writers, Joni Mitchell, with a very good arrangement of his flagship hit, “A Case of You”.
He welcomed a very special guest star on stage. Crystal Monee Hall is a soul singer who has worked with Mickey Hart of The Grateful Dead, Cynthia Erivo, Kristin Chenoweth and Ben Platt. She was a cast member of To rent out and appeared on Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Stephen Colbert. She brought her soul style to a duet with Butz on Santigold’s “The Artists”. She then stayed on stage and sang in all the remaining numbers. These included excellent arrangements of “Unknown Legend” by Neil Young, “Nine to Five” by Dolly Parton and “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. All three songs meant something completely different in the context of the pandemic. I was particularly impressed with “Nine to Five”, which was slowed down and gave an Arlo Guthrie-type protest vibe. It was an incredible reinvention of a classic song.
Norbert Leo Butz himself played the piano with a bass, drums and cello group. When Mrs Hall was on stage he took to playing guitar and was equally impressive. Mr. Butz has always been a singer of great passion and a lot of soul. Singing about the pandemic seems to have reinforced these qualities. It was a very moving evening of songs about survival and courage and the healing and transforming power of love. Norbert Leo Butz SINGS TORCH SONGS FOR THE PANDEMIC was more than surviving a plague. It was about mourning those who have left, embracing those who are still there and finding common ground in all the people who shared this difficult time.
For more information on Norbert Leo Butz, follow him @NorbertLButz on Twitter or @norbert_leo_butz on Instagram. To learn more about Crystal Monee Hall, visit cystalmoneehall.com. For other great issues on 54 Below, visit 54below.com.