ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Annie Golden Talks "Orange is the New Black" and Norbert Leo Butz Shares Stories from Big Fish

By Seth Rudetsky
13 Jan 2014

Michele Lee

Speaking of silent screen stars (like Norma Desmond) and the film "Hair," Betty Buckley, who was amazing in Sunset Boulevard was also fantastic in the "Hair" movie. Yes, her face is nowhere to be seen, and quite frankly, neither is her name. She sings the big solo in "Walking in Space," but she never got credit for it. An Asian girl lipsynchs Betty's voice! For rizzle! Watch and listen at 1:47. That's Betty Buckley sounding amazing! Here's my deconstruction.

I also had the fantastic Michele Lee on "Seth Speaks" to talk about her new show at 54 Below, which runs Jan. 30-Feb. 1. She's going to sing a fantastic song she originated in the show Brava Giovanni, which she starred in when she was 18! Yowza! Listen how great she sounds on the recording. Once she was on Broadway, she began to do lots of the big variety shows with amazing people like Lucille Ball. She remembers one event, when Lucy was pretty elderly at the point, and Michele noticed that after Lucy used the ladies room, it was spotless. The entire sink area had been wiped down and dried. When she mentioned it Lucy, Lucy acknowledged she had done it and told her that at this point in her life, she wanted to make sure that God knew she wasn't a diva! Brava!

I also told Michele that I had read Steven Suskin's wonderful book "Second Act Trouble," which is all about musicals that didn't succeed. There's a whole chapter on Seesaw. Michele starred in the show on Broadway, but, when the show was out of town, the star was Lainie Kazan. Seesaw was not doing well, so The Producers fired the director and brought in Michael Bennett, who promptly fired Lainie and replaced her with Michele! Michele was completely torn because she and Lainie had been friends ever since Lainie was in the chorus in Bravo, Giovanni! And Lainie lived in the same apartment building, down the hall! Nonetheless, Michele took the role because it was Michael's decision and really had nothing to do with her.

Sadly, it hurt the friendship between Lainie and Michele, and they didn't speak for decades! But, around 15 years ago, there was a New Year's party at Lee Grant's house and she and Lainie was standing on opposite sides of the buffet table. Suddenly, the clock struck midnight, people starting singing "Auld Lang Syne" and both she and Lainie burst into tears. They ran into each other's arms, and they've been best friends ever since. And, as Michele told this story on the air, she surprised herself by crying again. Paraphrasing Lorrell in Dreamgirls, let me say that show business sure has a lot of "ups and downs".

Norbert Leo Butz

At "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox," I had Norbert Leo Butz, and the fist thing we spoke about was his recent Broadway show, Big Fish. He was asked to do it by Susan Stroman and went over to Andrew Lippa's apartment to listen to the score. That's what convinced him. Norbert said that he's considered a character actor, and the role's he's offered don't give him many opportunities to sing big, sweeping songs. He said the last show where he really got to sing lots of big songs was The Last Five Years, and he wanted to do something like that again. But, of course, singing all those songs in Big Fish was difficult to keep up during previews while they were rehearsing all the time. He got vocally fried and went on Prednisone which allows you to sing without feeling pain. But, if your voice is hurt, you continue to hurt it while you're singing.

So, once he stopped taking the Prednisone a few days after opening, Norbert said he felt like anesthesia was wearing off after surgery. His voice got dryer and dryer, and he said that by the end of Act One he was doing full out Rex Harrison speak-singing. He knew that there was no way he could sing Act Two and went backstage to tell stage management. Normally, he said, when an actor misses a show everyone is disappointed and also sort of judgemental. There's usually an attitude like, "Wow. You really can't go on?" However, apparently the cast heard Norbert singing and everyone was like, "You better go home ASAP." He was relieved/mortified.