It was a little more than 25 years ago when Kerry Butler made her Broadway debut in Blood Brothers, and the endearing and versatile actor now has a dozen shows on her Broadway résumé, including currently playing Barbara Maitland in the buzz-worthy new musical Beetlejuice, based on the Tim Burton film of the same name, currently at the Winter Garden Theatre.
Those who have seen the show marvel at the elaborate theatrical playground scenic designer David Korins has created, and Butler herself calls it “one of the most spectacular sets” she’s ever been on.
“The whole opening is so beautiful in the graveyard, and then when the house comes down, even my watching it, I wonder, ‘Where in the world did they have a place to store all the different set pieces that come out,’” she says. “I love how enormous the house is and you can see the influence of Tim Burton’s style.”
The house also transforms throughout the play and becomes almost its own character, and Butler says the incredible designs of each rendition is testament to Korins’ incredible imagination.
“It’s one set, but it has so many different looks, and each one is more amazing than the next,” Butler says. “I was definitely in awe when I first saw it all and am delighted I get to be a part of it all.”
The Beetlejuice set is just one of the numerous innovative sets Butler has graced over her career, and she’s worked with some of the top designers in the business. One of her favorite parts about working on a new show is the reveal of the miniature set during rehearsals. “It’s so exciting to see how everything is going to work when you have no idea how they’re going to pull some things off,” she says.
Here she takes us down memory lane to some of her favorites.
Beauty and the Beast
Scenic Design: Stan Meyer
As a replacement for Belle, Butler wasn’t involved in the musical from the beginning, but remembers vividly what it was like to step on the stage and view the breathtaking Disney set for the first time.
“Beauty and the Beast comes the closest to how I feel about Beetlejuice because there was so much magic going on with the set design,” she says. “There was a huge castle and part of the castle revolved so it wasn’t always the same, which is the same thing with our set now.”
In the first scene of the show, Butler’s Belle must walk through the town with a book, as the houses come on from the side, and (during one performance) as she was singing “Little town, it’s a quiet village,” the houses crashed into one another, and it wasn’t so quiet that day! But audiences were so in love with the set—as was Butler—that it was quickly forgotten as the show went on.
The first scene of this 2002 fan-favorite features a bed, seen from the bird’s eye view of Tracy Turnblad’s room, complete with all ’60s teenage paraphernalia. Scenic designer David Rockwell provided this innovative perspective and created the look of 1962 Baltimore, complete with working-class row houses, a happening record shop, a TV studio, and a tap-dance-worthy jailhouse.
In Hairspray, Butler played Tracy’s best friend, Penny, and she remembers the first time she was introduced to the plan for her first song in the show. “When they brought out the mirrors for ‘Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,’ the girls heads popped through the mirrors. You don’t imagine things like that when you’re doing a reading of the show, and I love seeing a designer’s playful imagination come to life,” she says. “It was so much fun.”
Scenic Design: David Gallo
Disco balls, Greek gods, and roller skates. Not the easiest assortment of ideas to marry together, but Xanadu set designer David Gallo provided a memorable space for the 2007 show in which Butler played Greek demi-goddess Clio, who also roams Venice Beach as the Australian mortal Kira—on roller skates!
“The fun part of that set was that the audience was onstage with us, so it was set up like an arena in Greek mythology, and you couldn’t escape the audience,” Butler says. “I remember all these ramps, since it was a roller-skating town. It was like a big playground.”
Catch Me If You Can
Scenic Design: David Rockwell
Butler worked with Rockwell a second time for this too-short-lived 2011 production, but which gifted Butler her favorite Broadway solo to date: “Fly, Fly Away.”
“It was a sleek and minimalistic set because they had to go between the television broadcast set and real life,” she says. “David made things very cool and contemporary where a bed would pop out, but then it had an old-fashioned TV shows kind of set, with realistic pieces. It’s a show I will always remember.”
Gore Vidal’s The Best Man
Scenic Design: Derek McLane
As the one non-musical credit on Butler’s impressive list, she starred as Mabel Cantwell in this 2012 political drama set in 1960 Philadelphia. Derek McLane envisioned the faux hotel suite setting for this one.
“There was a lot of beautiful detail, and Derek had to pay attention to the time period and political [ambience]. These were gorgeous hotel suites we were in, and I remember there were so many set pieces,” Butler says. “They also decorated the whole theatre to look like you were at one of these political rallies, so it was immersive and fun.”
Each night, Butler loved the entrance when she, Angela Lansbury, and Candice Bergen set themselves on a couch in the wings and their three characters would be swooped into the scene. “Just before the scene, I was always so excited hearing Angela and Candice talking and telling stories,” Butler says.
The team behind Tina Fey’s Mean Girls crafted the show to appeal to those who had grown up with the 2007 film and set designer Scott Pask made sure to incorporate multimedia via projections. As the scenes transitioned at lightning speed from one set to the next, projected backgrounds on two curved walls made up of 644 square LED tiles oriented the audience traveling from North Shore High School to the mall to the memory of Africa.
“That was the biggest use of screens that I had done,” Butler says. “What [director] Casey [Nicholaw] did with the open set and the screen behind it was incredible. The script was like a movie, with all these fast scene changes, which don’t normally happen on Broadway. Casey and Scott did an incredible job with making it all work.”