By Andrew Gans
29 Apr 2011
As wonderful as Aaron Tveit (as suave, young con artist Frank Abagnale) and Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz (as FBI Fraud Agent Carl Hanratty) are in the new Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman and Terrence McNally musical Catch Me If You Can at the Neil Simon Theatre, this diva lover was most taken by Kerry Butler, who manages to steal the show with her soaring second-act ballad, "Fly, Fly Away." Butler, a Tony nominee for her performance in Xanadu, plays Brenda Strong, the one woman who manages to steal the heart of Tveit's character, and her honest, heartfelt performance transcends the musical's variety-show format to create a moving portrait of a young woman who believes she has found true love. The singing actress, who also created the role of Penny Pingleton in the earlier, Tony-winning Shaiman-Wittman musical Hairspray, is reunited with her Hairspray co-star Linda Hart, who plays her mom, Carol Strong. I recently had the chance to chat with the gifted Butler, who is blessed with one of the most beautiful, crystal-clear belts on Broadway. Butler, whose Broadway credits also include Little Shop of Horrors, Rock of Ages, Les Miserables and Blood Brothers, spoke about her role in the new musical, which is directed by Jack O'Brien and choreographed by Tony winner Jerry Mitchell; that brief interview follows.
Question: You've been involved with Catch Me If You Can for a couple years. How has your character changed throughout the process?
Kerry Butler: Brenda's gone through probably the most changes out of anyone in this show. She started out very much like in the movie, where she was very weak and crying all the time, kind of like a wounded little bird in a way, and then Frank helped her to mature. And then, they wanted to make her stronger, and they wanted to see more of why he fell in love with her. She went through two [more] changes while we were in previews, and the final version, now, was maybe a week before we opened or a week before we locked the show... So now she is much stronger. She's good at her job — before she used to be bad at her job. Now she's a good nurse. She's strong. She's the only person who calls [Frank out] on things. She's not falling for his act, and so she's much smarter — she only tells the truth, and that's what attracts him to her.
|Photographed at New 42nd Street Studios by Krissie Fullerton|
Question: Has that been a more interesting way for you to play her?
Butler: I liked it both ways, but the response has been much better this way. It's different how I play the song. Before, it was a journey, where in the song she actually grew up to be a woman. She was like this weak thing, and then she kind of found her voice in the song. And now the song is more about deciding whether or not she can trust him, and whether or not she loves him enough to let him go.
Butler: Since I did it in Seattle, the song has always worked. Depending on things that happen before the song, we found that in previews, too, that it lands differently on how it's set up, so that was interesting. But, yeah, the song is such a good song, and it's so deep, and it has so many different layers to it — it's not just about one thing, and it's like you go on this emotional journey through it, so I love the song so much.
Question: Linda Hart, who plays your mom in the show, was also in Hairspray. Does it feel a bit like a homecoming working with her again?
Butler: Definitely. We both have our same dressing rooms. [Laughs.] And we grew really close — even closer when we were in Seattle than when we were in Hairspray. So, I just love her. She's hilarious. We have a great time together. And now she's my mom, and Linda is a great stage mom. [Laughs.] Before, Laura Bell [Bundy] had her [as her mom in Hairspray], and now she's all mine. [Laughs.] She really takes on the mothering role with me, like she'll tell me [to] watch my makeup. She'll watch my song and tell me how it's going and stuff like that. [Laughs.] She really acts like my mom and looks out for the best for me.