Catch Him While You Can: Broadway star Norbert Leo Butz returns to St. Louis next week for a good cause

Catch Him While You Can: Broadway star Norbert Leo Butz returns to St. Louis next week for a good cause
Heidi Peters

For Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me If You Can sounded like the ideal gig. This musical adaptation of Steven Spielberg's popular movie had been tailor-written to accentuate Butz's stage strengths: his deft comedic timing and prodigious energy. The Broadway-bound show reunited him with director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who had shepherded Butz to his first Tony Award four years earlier in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Best of all, Catch Me If You Can was going to open in Seattle, where his older brother Tony and younger sister Teresa lived.

"Teresa was a big reason why I agreed to go out of town," Butz says by phone from Chicago, where he is starring in another pre-Broadway tryout, a musical version of the Tim Burton movie Big Fish, which is set to open in New York in October. "The Seattle engagement was over the summer. I could bring my children, and I got to spend time with my sister. She would hang around after rehearsals, and a lot of the cast became friends with her."

Catch Me If You Can was set to open on Thursday, July 23, 2009. Four days prior, Norbert and his family had plans to meet Teresa for breakfast. "We were waiting for her," he says, then struggles to continue. "She was supposed to come...to my apartment...and when...she didn't come...Tony called me...and came over...and told me."

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

Location Info

Map

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

Details

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 www.angelbandproject.org.

At about three o'clock that Sunday morning, an intruder had broken into the home Teresa shared with her fiancée. For 90 minutes he raped the two women repeatedly, then stabbed them. Teresa managed to fight back and frighten him off. Her partner survived; Teresa died a few minutes later in the street outside their home.

Did it ever occur to you to not continue with the show?

"No. I knew that I would. I didn't know how much time I needed to take off. But I knew I was going to need to do something that felt familiar, and being onstage has always been a comforting thing. I don't know how to explain it, but I feel most myself when I'm onstage playing someone else. I knew I was going to need the show to keep me from evaporating."

The producers canceled two performances, then three more, to allow Butz to return home to St. Louis for his sister's funeral.

"There were some police and legal things that we had to do in those first couple of days, and then we had to figure out how to get her to St. Louis." Silence. "This is kind of hard to talk about. But I was told to take as much time as I needed, so I was the one who designated when I came back to the show."

What are your memories of that first performance?

"I have to be honest: I don't remember anything. I do remember that when I came back, I asked everybody to come onstage, and we all just sort of held hands, and I thanked everyone for their support. We made a commitment to do the show for Teresa. But really, I don't remember a lot."

Catch Me If You Can choreographer Jerry Mitchell picks up the story: "Our cast was a tight-knit group. When Norbert returned to Seattle, I remember him joining the cast onstage. Even the stagehands came out onto the stage. Basically, it was a chance for Norbert to say, 'Thank you, this is where I need to be.' My sense was that returning to this company of actors who truly loved him was the only way he could survive. The tragedy in Seattle has forever changed everything about the theater for me. But it strengthens the one thing I've always believed, which is that none of us in the theater are anywhere without a sense of community. This is what defines us and supports us through success, failure and even trauma."

How was his performance that night?

"Spot-on. It was perfect. No one in the audience could ever have imagined that this actor was carrying such a load in his personal life."


Between the time Catch Me If You Can closed in Seattle in 2009 and reopened in 2011 on Broadway, where it earned Butz his second Tony Award, the St. Louis-based Angel Band Project came into existence. "The founders of the organization, Rachel Ebeling and Jean Fox, were two of Teresa's best friends in St. Louis," Butz says. "They contacted me a couple months after the funeral and asked if I would participate in recording some of the songs that we sang that day. These were the songs Teresa loved, and they wanted this recording as a memento. But as Rachel and Jean started sharing her story while they were looking for funds, Angel Band turned into the organization that it is now."

Next week Butz returns to St. Louis to headline two benefit concerts on behalf of the nonprofit, which uses music to promote healing and cultivate empathy for survivors of sexual violence. (The second performance was added after the first sold out.)

"Don't worry, it's not going to be a downer," he assures. "It's going to be a night of celebration and song." Though the show is titled An Evening with Norbert Leo Butz, surely the Broadway star's first hometown appearance since he graduated from Webster University 23 years ago will be much more charged than that; the concerts will provide a long overdue catharsis. As has been true for so much of his life, yet another stage will be the place where he needs to be. An Evening with Norbert Leo Butz might better be named Norbert Leo Butz: A Life in Review.

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1 comments
egolterman
egolterman topcommenter

Were these in Kiel Opera House 3100 could enjoy him and a great deal more money would be raised, and the Sheldon could receive a fee for handing this off to the bigger place.

 
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