For now, and until those new musicals are written, Butz has become Broadway's most versatile go-to guy. Do you need a farceur to carry Is He Dead? (a newly discovered comedy by novice playwright Mark Twain)? Get Norbert. One of the stars suddenly drops out of a revival of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow? Get Norbert. Who can reveal the mesmerizing charm of the destructive pedophile in How I Learned to Drive? Who can add gravitas to Dead Accounts, a Broadway entry featuring paparazzi-beset Katie Holmes?

"You have to be grateful for the work when it comes in," Butz says, "because it's all temporary. I have never been a ticket seller. I'm not a movie or a TV personality. My career is in the theater. But I also have a family, and I have to provide for them." In 2007 Butz married Michelle Federer, Wicked's original Nessarose. In addition to Clara and Maggie, two daughters from his first marriage, Butz and Federer are the parents of three-year-old Georgia Teresa.

Big Fish closes this weekend in Chicago, where Butz's leading lady, Muny favorite Kate Baldwin, has been observing her costar at close range. "When Norbert goes onstage," Baldwin says, "it's almost as though he flips on a switch and this light shines out of him and he's pure combustible energy. People have long appreciated Norbert's unique ability as a dazzling showman. But when I look into his eyes, what I get to see — and what I hope people will come to know through Big Fish — is his capacity for depth and truth. In terms of being honest on the stage, he is fearless."

A February Angel Band recording session in New York.
Heidi Peters
A February Angel Band recording session in New York.

Location Info


The Sheldon

3648 Washington Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63108

Category: Art Galleries

Region: St. Louis - Grand Center

The 560 Music Center

560 Trinity Ave.
University City, MO 63130

Category: Music Venues

Region: University City


The May 8 performance of An Evening with Norbert Leo Butz at the Sheldon Concert Hall is sold out. For the Thursday, May 9, show at 7:30 p.m. at 560 Music Center (560 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-935-9231), tickets are $50 and $100. Both shows benefit Angel Band Project. For more information about the group and its work, call 314-223-1630 or visit

Which prompts one final question.

You have said that the experience in Seattle has profoundly changed you as an actor. Could you elaborate on that?

The phone goes silent again. Then:

"I don't know if I can, but I do know it's true. How do I say it? It's a very ephemeral thing that we try to do in theater. We're literally trying to capture moments in time and space, and then re-enact those moments with a kind of distilled clarity and truth. And you're trying to do that over and over in the course of a play. So when you lose somebody and you're reminded of the brevity of life, that kind of tragedy helps you to find clarity in real life as well. You try to cut the fat off your life. And that disciplined approach to your real life bleeds into your work. I don't know. That's the best way I can describe it."

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