Two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz returns to 54 Below this summer with an all new show, Girls, Girls, Girls, which draws parallels between female archetypes in mythology and popular music to examine what it means to be a woman in today’s society. We caught up with Butz to hear all about this intellectual yet rockin’ new show, and to get the scoop on what makes his Broadway-bound musical Big Fish a standout.
Where did the idea for Girls, Girls, Girls come from? Why something completely new after Memory and Mayhem?
The show is a reaction to all of the female energy in my life right now. I’m raising three daughters, two of whom are teenagers, and I’m also married; I wanted to try to understand my kids and my wife and my sisters and my mom and my mother-in-law on a deeper level. I wanted to experiment, basically, with feminine archetypes and popular music, the place where rock and roll and feminism intersect.
What types of women are covered in the show, and how did you pair them with songs?
The goddess Athena, for example, is a soldier for social justice or wisdom, so we do the Flaming Lips song “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” Yoshimi is very much a daughter of Athena. The Furies in Greek mythology [represented] vengeance and retribution for a human who had broken an oath, and there is a great song called “Sunny Came Home” about a woman who takes revenge on an abusive relationship. So, Sunny is a direct descendant of the Furies. At least, that’s my thesis!
This concert sounds thought-provoking and interesting!
Some of the [song pairings] are sort of tongue-in-cheek and ironic and just fun. There’s very little theater music. We do a piece from Hedwig and the Angry Inch; there’s some country, there’s some rock-and-roll, some jazz. It's a wide range, and we have a lot of fun.
Who will be accompanying you at 54 Below?
I have a great, great band. My music director, Michael Moritz, is a phenomenal piano player and arranger. I play some guitar and we do songs that we love, so there’s a great joy in the playing of the music. I’m not a sociologist, and I’m not a women’s study professor, but this is me trying to come to a deeper level of sensitivity and awareness of what it means to be a girl in our society.
Let’s talk a little about your next Broadway show, Big Fish. What excites you most about this musical?
The show is really unique. Broadway has, I think, shied away from the overtly emotional, grown-up musical. Everyone was joking at the Tony Awards about how many kids' shows are on Broadway right now, and pop musicals. Big Fish has lot of whimsy to it, but it’s also grown-up and it’s unabashedly emotional, [addressing] issues of death, life, marriage, parenting and identity. It’s not campy or tongue-in-cheek. It’s a heart-on-its-sleeve musical that is infused with tons and tons and tons of feeling, and that’s rare. There’s nothing cynical or ironic about Big Fish. It’s lush and super-romantic and gorgeous to look at and gorgeous to listen to. The score is unbelievably beautiful—Andrew Lippa’s best work by far. I’m really, really proud to be a part of it.
Your description reminds me of the Sondheim masterpiece Sunday in the Park with George.
Very much. I think that’s a really, really apt comparison. It has a bold, visual aesthetic and it’s unafraid to tackle huge themes. Broadway’s great because we can have feel-good musicals and also shows like Big Fish, which are thoroughly entertaining but also dare to be thought-provoking.
Don’t miss Norbert Leo Butz in Girls, Girls, Girls at 54 Below June 21, 22, July 6, 8, 10 and 19. Big Fish begins at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre on September 5.