Norbert Leo Butz: Memory and Mayhem Reboot

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Norbert Leo Butz

Memory and Mayhem Reboot

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, September 8, 2017

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Norbert Leo Butz

Norbert Leo Butz returns to a buzzing, filled-to-the-gills Feinstein’s/54 Below with a show recognizing its theme after the fact: “Everyone is singing about the past.” Again, selections are a wildly mixed bag bridged by smart, articulate, often personal patter and the impression he’s talking TO us. Like many stage actors, the artist only selectively looks into eyes when singing, in my opinion, usually a disconnect, yet it’s hard to argue with a performer so inhabiting lyrics that we feel like voyeurs.

Picking up his guitar, Butz opens with Marc Broussard’s “Home,” country rock with a hard beat; a vocal that loops and snaps. His roughneck voice has a sandpaper quality that can scale to elemental grit or, leaving the realm for higher octaves, become unexpectedly palpable.

“The Way Young Lovers Do” (Van Morrison) is introduced as remembering very first loves. “That would be me, honey,” comments a woman at the table to my left. “Well, almost,” her companion replies. The performer can deliver rock with all the come hither attraction of a folksy ballad. He bounces. Piano is spiked with juke.

During “Can’t Let Go” (recorded by Lucinda Williams; written by Randy Weeks), we imagine him, thumbs hooked into belt loops, walking down a dirt road, kicking anything in his path. It’s a Texas two-step, intermittently cowed and declaratory. A rueful “If These Walls Could Speak” (Jimmy Webb), with classically influenced piano, embodies melancholy restraint.

Butz displays his own songwriting talents with three numbers.
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For the first, he perches on a stool rocking gently back and forth. “…We ain’t getting younger/We ain’t goin’ nowhere/The past is in ashes…Will you be/Will you be/My hotel bride?…” MD/pianist Michael J. Moritz, Jr. provides appealing, harmonized back-up (often.) P.S.: Butz married the woman. “South Mountain Waltz” is a languid, country tune he wrote years before its lyric, which was inspired by his eventual wife: “… the sun sets and the stars start to weep/And I need you like the ground ‘neath my feet…” “The Long Haul” is a melodic wail, a pungent promise. (Watch for a CD with this title made by Butz and Jason Loughlin.)

“Georgia on My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael/Stuart Gorrell), the only songbook standard, is dedicated to Butz’s youngest daughter, Georgia. You’ll never hear it imbued with more specificity and affection. Reaching for something to hold on to, he grasps, then runs his hand down the microphone stand. The tribute ends a cappella, tiptoeing out.

Two musical theatre numbers from shows he starred in include Jason Robert Brown’s “I Could Be in Love with Someone Like You” (from the short-lived The Last Five Years) and Andrew Lippa’s “Fight the Dragons” (from Big Fish). The first presents a sweet, funny, stumbling character in search of the woman who can stand up to an Irish girl he loved at age ten. (Terrific lyric.) The second, with only unfussy piano and bongos accompanying, is an immensely expressive song about storytelling, trust, love, and passing the mantle. These showcase why the artist garnered two Tony Awards. Both are enchanting.

Additional musicians include Jason Loughlin (guitar), Kenny Brescia (guitars), Larry Cook (bass), and Billy Guardia (drums).

Norbert Leo Butz’s genial virtuosity extends to controlled detonation, raffish expression, rhythmic dynamism, savvy perception, and convincing emotional core.
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And he’s fun! GO!

Additional Shows September 12, 13, 14.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.