Norbert Leo Butz Shares Horror Stories From Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Failed Auditions

Seth Rudetsky   Norbert Leo Butz Shares Horror Stories From Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Failed Auditions
 
This week, Seth celebrates the Edge of the World concept album release and hosts a COVID-safe brunch.
Norbert Leo Butz and John Lithgow in <i>Dirty Rotten Scoundrels</i>
Norbert Leo Butz and John Lithgow in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Carol Rosegg

How is the summer is more than half over? The good news is I have a lot of trips to beautiful Provincetown, Massachusetts, coming up. I’m going up there almost every week to do concerts with Liz Callaway, Susie Mosher, Lillias White, Beth Malone, Beth Leavel, Kelli O’Hara, Stephanie J. Block and Krysta Rodriguez. Get tix at PtownArtHouse.com.

This week we were thrilled that CBS did a story on Stars in the House featuring our (and CBS’s) chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. It was about us having raised $1,000,000 and what The Actors Fund does. It had amazing clips from previous shows and from our live show that we did at Asylum NYC. Watch here.

My Mom and her helper, musical theater major Kara Vito
My Mom and her helper, musical theater major Kara Vito Seth Rudetsky

Last weekend was a rare one: I was home. So, James and I decided to have a brunch for some friends and family. It was so fun! My sister Nancy and her husband Allan drove up from Baltimore, my Mom and her helper Kara Vito came in from Long Island and my NYC friends Aaron Dai, Tom Ashe, Paul Castree, Stephen Spadaro, and Adam Pascal drove up as well. Because we know how crazily contagious the new Delta variant is, we all took a COVID test right before the brunch. We wanted to be able to sit indoors with our masks off and not wake up in a few days wondering why we can’t smell or taste anything. We used the BinaxNOW home test and Juli took an artistic shot of all the negative Covid tests!

Aaron (whom I used to date but is now married to Tom) told a “hilarious” story about a friend of his who was trying to set him up after we parted ways. His friend was trying to get him a new boyfriend and asked Aaron if he liked “Daddy” types. Aaron asked “Why?” His friend said “Because you dated Seth. I mean… isn’t he much older than you?” Aaron informed him we are the same age. Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there. Aaron then said, trying to be nice to me even though I wasn’t there, “Oh! You must think Seth is older because I look so young for my age.” His reply: “No…Seth just looks much older.” The “good” news is that was around 15 years ago so I look even older. Yay?

Seth Rudetsky and friends
Seth Rudetsky and friends Seth Rudetsky

Paul Castree (who is four years older than I) then made me tell another devastating story: A few years ago, Paul had an audition for a role that I thought I was right for. I called my agent and asked him to get me an audition. He told me I was “too old” for the role. I told him Paul Castree had an audition and he replied, “Paul Castree is much younger than you .” Silence. There was really no way out of it without making it worse. What I wanted to say was “No, he’s not! He’s older!” but what would I have gained out of that? My agent would then reply “OK. I guess he just looks much younger than you. Now what?” Now what indeed? My only recourse was to end the conversation and hope for a revival of The Gin Game.

This week I interviewed the Nick Blaemire and Ethan Slater who wrote the musical Edge of the World, which just came out with a concept album produced by Broadway Records. I interviewed Nick years ago because he co-wrote Glory Days, which is one of those crazy Broadway stories: the show was a huge hit when it played at the Signature Theatre and then it came to Broadway and closed opening night. The chain of who is told that a show is closing is always so difficult to navigate and I remember talking to a cast member who told me that the day after opening, the whole cast was called to the theatre. He didn’t know what the meeting was for but remained optimistic. As he was on his way into the theater, one of the box office workers saw him in the lobby and yelled sympathetically, “Sorry your show is closing!” And that’s how he found out.

Lilli Cooper, Ethan Slater, and Nick Blaemire
Lilli Cooper, Ethan Slater, and Nick Blaemire

Nick and Ethan got an amazing cast together including one of Ethan’s co-star from Spongebob Squarepants, Lilli Cooper. Lilli and I were talking about her doing the original production of Spring Awakening while she still in high school. At the time, she was going to LaGuardia High School (aka the Fame school) and they highly discouraged people to work while they were in school. However, Lilli thinks learning on the job is invaluable and she’s really happy she got be on Broadway as a teen. Regardless, in order for her to graduate she had to do a final show at her school… which meant leaving her Broadway show. Can’t you get credit for doing professionally what they teach at the school? I guess not. Here’s the song she originated in Spring Awakening.

Norbert Leo Butz plays the Dad in Edge of the World and he was telling me how happy he was to do the album because there are so few roles for men his age where they can really sing up a storm. Here’s one of his songs featuring his great voice.

Norbert Leo Butz, Sherie Rene Scott, and John Lithgow in <i>Dirty Rotten Scoundrels</i>
Norbert Leo Butz, Sherie Rene Scott, and John Lithgow in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Craig Schwartz

I asked Norbert about a mortifying onstage experience and he recalled doing Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. At one point, he’s in a wheelchair pretending that he’s lost all feelings in his legs. John Lithgow pretends to be a doctor and is trying to out Norbert for lying by whipping Norbert repeatedly. Norbert as the character is supposed to be feeling great pain but forced to remain impassive. Well, in actuality, Norbert would wear a leg pads under his costume so he didn’t feel anything. Well, one night he was onstage about to begin the song, and realized he forgot to put on the leg pads. Norbert decided he would just deal with it and continue with the number. Well, after the first whip, not only did it hurt, but Norbert began to bleed under his pants! John Lithgow surreptitiously asked him what was wrong and decided the only thing to do was announce to the audience that Norbert had forgotten his padding but they would try to do the number anyway. John whips him around 25 times throughout the song… including going all the way offstage and then running at full speed and whipping him. He did it all… but he did all the whipping to the side of Norbert’s wheelchair so the entire number had zero laughs. Here is how the number is supposed to go.

I had Norbert re-tell one of my favorite bad audition stories: When he first moved to NYC, he got Rent (covering Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp) and soon began to get big Broadway auditions, even though he really wasn’t well-versed in how to audition. Well, he was brought in for the original production of Side Show and his agent told him to bring his book. If you don’t know, all actors have books of songs that they can use depending on what is needed. Usually an uptempo and a ballad and often a Sondheim, a contemporary, a golden age, a comedic, etc. The first problem was that Norbert wasn’t used to using the pianist provided at this particular audition. He would often accompany himself on guitar. So, the sheet music he brought wasn’t accurate to the version he was trying to sing. He had never run it with a pianist. His first song tanked and then his second.

Finally, the people behind the table asked if they could see his book to choose a song. And at that moment, Norbert realized what his agent meant. He thought his agent was telling him that he’d be waiting for a while in the lobby and therfore should bring his book to occupy himself. Which he did. He brought the book he was currently reading, A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe. Norbert remained pleasant-faced and told them regretfully that he didn’t have his book because he just moved to the city and it was “in storage.” He added to me that whenever you don’t have something, just say it’s “in storage.”

Anyhoo, he immediately fled and was devastated. Years later, he was touring with Cabaret and everyone was telling audition horror stories. He told his and everyone thought he was exaggerating and that it couldn’t have been that bad. Suddenly Cabaret cast member Susie Taylor raised her hand and softly said, “It’s true. I was the dance captain and at that audition. It was indeed that bad.” As a matter of fact, it became legendary for that creative team and whenever they saw a horrific audition, they would call it “pulling a Norbert.” Wowza. I guess at least his version was accurate? Here’s my deconstruction of Norbert (and the amazing Emily Skinner). Peace out!

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