Great Big Stuff: The Essential Norbert Leo Butz on Disc

By Ben Rimalower
December 28, 2013

Playbill.com correspondent Ben Rimalower offers a collection of the essential albums featuring Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz. 



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Since his Broadway debut as the first replacement Roger in Rent, Norbert Leo Butz has been raising the roof—and the bar—on stage. Both a legitimate actor and a consummate showman, Butz is incredibly versatile. With his appealing, regular-guy good looks and masculine presence, he's been an asset to a wide range of shows—from the original production of Jason Robert Brown's heartbreaking song cycle The Last Five Years, to Second Stage's revival of Paula Vogel's disturbingly cozy memory play How I Learned To Drive. Especially beloved in musicals (where he's won two Tonys for his work in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Catch Me If You Can), Butz sings expressively with a warm, clear rock n' roll voice that you want to listen to again and again.

What follows is a retrospective of Butz's career thus far on disc. 

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"Memory And Mayhem: Live At 54 Below"
Without a doubt, the number one go-to Norbert Leo Butz album has to be "Memory And Mayhem: Live At 54 Below," released in early 2013 by Broadway Records. (The label will also release the cast album of Butz's current project Big Fish in early 2014). "Memory And Mayhem" is the only solo album Butz has recorded so far, but it was worth the wait. A captivating collection of rhythm and blues, rock and soul, framed by funny, disarming chat, Butz exhibits endearing humility and moving wisdom. This is a real bridge album in that the personality and conviction Butz brings to these non-show songs could convert some new fans to the music, and, similarly, these tracks could make a case for Broadway to any non-believers.

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The Last Five Years – Original Cast Recording
Butz had already amassed throngs of fans for back-to-back (and different as night and day) turns as Roger in Rent and the Emcee in Cabaret in the late 1990s, but the real moment he ascended to musical theatre royalty was when he originated the role of Jamie in Jason Robert Brown's cult musical, The Last Five Years. It may have only run a few months Off-Broadway, but the musical has become one of the most treasured pieces of our time, thanks largely to the rapturous performances by Butz and Sherie Rene Scott on the original cast album.

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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Original Cast Recording
If Butz ascended to musical theatre royalty with The Last Five Years, then he became a full-blown Broadway star with his performance in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, for which he won his first Tony Award. Prior to the David Yazbek-Jeffrey Lane musical comedy, Butz had proven himself in fan-favorite pop opera material as something of a heartthrob and elsewhere as a reliable replacement, but it was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that cemented his gravitas as a sophisticated and hilarious leading man of great personal distinction. The wonderful cast album is replete with showstoppers including Butz's personal triumphs in "Great Big Stuff," "Love Is My Legs" (with Sherie Rene Scott) and the title number (with John Lithgow).

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Catch Me If You Can – Original Cast Recording
Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman and Terrence McNally's 2011 musical Catch Me If You Can marked another graduation of sorts for Butz. The kind of character he once would have played was essayed by Aaron Tveit, while Butz matriculated to the "grown up" part of Carl Hanratty. To put it in movie terms, he was no longer the Leonard DiCaprio; now he was Tom Hanks. This development fit Butz like a glove and he stopped the show every night with "Don't Break The Rules," winning his second Tony Award.

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Thou Shalt Not – Original Cast Recording
If Harry Connick, Jr. and David Thompson's 2001 musical adaptation of Émile Zola's novel "Thérèse Raquin," Thou Shalt Not, was not a smash hit, it at least gave the world another early career cast recording for Butz, who was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in the show. On the album, his sensitive rendition of "All Things" is evidence of why.

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Wicked – Original Cast Recording
There's no question that Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's behemoth hit musical Wicked belongs to its two leading ladies, as created by superstars Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, and as played by every pair that's stepped into the show all around the world for the last decade. Without a doubt, though, the man to make biggest impact in the role of Fiyero was the originator, Norbert Leo Butz, who brought real complexity and heart to his performance. These qualities—and his musical, dynamic voice—make his cast recording renditions of "Dancing Through Life" and "As Long As You're Mine" worthy of repeat listening.

(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues. Read Playbill.com's coverage of the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)

PHOTO ARCHIVE: Norbert Leo Butz Onstage

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Norbert Leo Butz and Marcy Harriell in Rent
Photo by Joan Marcus