Norbert recently played the role of the Emcee in the national tour of Cabaret, which he described as "spooky..kind of a psycho....perfect for me!"
Norbert Leo Butz will join "Lois and Clark" star Teri Hatcher when the Cabaret national tour bids its first "Wilkommen" at L.A.'s Wilshire Theatre Feb. 23, 1999.
Butz, best known for playing Roger in Broadway's Rent, will portray the Emcee, the role originated by Joel Grey and currently being played by Alan Cumming at the Roundabout's Studio 54.
Hatcher will play the role of Fraulein Sally Bowles only up through the Washington DC engagement, which ends Labor Day weekend.
The multi-year tour of Cabaret will begin at the Wilshire, and play dates in Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Toronto and San Francisco.
Specific dates for the Toronto, Minneapolis and San Francisco engagements are not yet set.
After briefly studying at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.), Hatcher has appeared in numerous films including: "The Big Picture," "Soapdish," "Straight Talk," "Heaven's Prisoners," "2 Days in the Valley," and a recent turn as the latest James Bond girl in "Tomorrow Never Dies."
No word yet on who will play Sally for the Toronto, Minneapolis and San Francisco dates. Tour spokesperson Kevin Gurstein admitted the producers were in negotiations with actress Anne Heche for the role but told PBOL (Dec. 14) the deal had fallen through and she would not be joining the tour.
As you wait for the performance of "Cabaret" at your table, perhaps sipping a drink, your eyes move to the stage. There cast members ready for the show. Women, dressed in camisoles, torn white stockings and open short silk robes stretch provocatively or wander listlessly as if trying to come out of a stupor. They smoke cigarettes or strike up a conversation with someone in the audience. You notice bruises, a sickly pallor and dark rings under their eyes that imply drug use. On a wrought-iron black platform that's part of the stage, a trombone player from the orchestra, dressed in a cut-off shirt, tattoos evident, sits on a chair. One of the girls suggestively straddles his lap, facing him as he strokes her stomach.
Willkommen to the new "Cabaret," which opened Wednesday at the Wilshire Theatre. Gone is the world-weary irony and the between-the-lines coyness of the 1966 Broadway Tony Award-winning production, or Bob Fosse's 1972 Oscar-winning film, both of which told the story of second-rate singer Sally Bowles during the rise of Nazism in Germany. Here, divine decadence has been replaced with risque business that has deadly consequences.
When the Emcee (Norbert Butz) of the Kit Kat Klub tells you "to leave your troubles outside/ so, life is disappointing/ we have no troubles here," there is no insinuating glamour of the earlier versions. Entering wearing a long black leather coat that opens, revealing a bare chest with red sequined nipples, the Emcee exudes an exuberant vulgarity. He operates throughout the show like a street-corner pusher, luring in new marks while keeping the users hooked. No matter how much the world is crumbling, or how ugly it becomes, the cabaret is a strung-out junkie's dream.
Conceived by Sam Mendes, this reinvented "Cabaret" remains as entertaining as ever, thanks to the wonderful Fred Ebb-John Kander score that evokes the age of Brecht and Weill and jazzy production numbers, but it also packs more punch. By placing most of the audience at tables, Mendes creates a setting in which they are implicated in all of the club's tawdriness as they laugh and applaud the erotic gyrations of the chorus of men and women, who feign an assortment of sexual positions throughout the show. And the choreography verges on the chaotic at times rather than the coolness of Fosse. (There are a few numbers done in storm-trooper boots.)
And don't go expecting to see the highly stylized sheen that Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli imprinted on the roles of the Emcee and Sally. Their cabaret was a place where Marlene Dietrich might stop by. This one is more like a trip to an S&M bar, lash marks and all. If Sally possessed the voice of Liza, she wouldn't be at the Kit Kat Klub.
This Sally (Teri Hatcher) is a second-rate performer, a cocaine and sex addict with an exaggerated and misplaced sense of sophistication. When she talks her way into the room of aspiring writer Cliff Bradshaw (Rick Holmes) during the number "Perfectly Marvelous," it's her survival instinct at work. She's a girl of minor talent who has used her feminine wiles and some time on her back to get by. Like the club, she is walled off from the real world. Hurts and slights are quickly covered over with jokes and grandiose delusions. Deep down, she knows her limitations but refuses to see them.
Playing a role like that is a difficult challenge (how do you play second-rate without seeming second-rate?), but Hatcher, who is making her stage debut, is up to the task. Though she never commands the role, she commands your attention when on stage. During her first production number, "Don't Tell Mama," she oozes little-girl charm. On the thin and pale character, it quickly becomes a little-girl-lost quality in those few moments when she's not performing or trying to charm someone. And while no great song stylist, Hatcher's vocals work well within the musical's dramatic context. More about that later.
One thing this new "Cabaret" hasn't overcome is some of the narrative problems of the original. Based on Christopher Isherwood's "Goodbye to Berlin," a collection of stories, and John Van Druten's "I Am a Camera," a stage adaptation of them, the original musical is more of a photo album.
The story revolves around events on the stage of the Kit Kat Club, the insidious growth of Nazism and two doomed relationships -- the strange attraction of homosexual Cliff for Sally, and Cliff's elderly landlady Fraulein Schneider's (Barbara Andres) romance with Herr Schultz (Dick Latessa), a Jewish fruit merchant. At times, scenes play more like individual snapshots than part of the whole picture, especially some of the Schneider-Schultz moments, as charming as they may be. (The movie solved the problem by eliminating their relationship.)
But charming isn't really what this "Cabaret" is about. Mendes uses the Emcee throughout as some perverse Greek chorus in an attempt to tie the narrative together.
As the Emcee, Butz has two tough acts to follow -- Grey, of course, and Alan Cumming, who originated this raunchier androgynous incarnation in London and New York. It is a particularly demanding role and really pivotal to the success of the show, and despite a few rough edges at the beginning on Wednesday night, Butz turns in a strong performance, eventually revealing a human face beneath the greasepaint.
That is what "Cabaret" is about. At the end of the first act, during an engagement party for Schneider and Schultz, Ernst (Andy Taylor), a Nazi, is about to stomp off after learning that Schultz is Jewish and has warned Schneider about the consequences of marrying him. One of the boarding-house residents, Fraulein Kost (Jeanine Morick), who has been doing her patriotic duty by entertaining sailors in her room, lures Ernst back by getting him to sing with her the stirring Nazi anthem "Tomorrow Belongs to Me." Then she asks everyone to join in. Since we have joined in the fun up until then, it is a disquieting moment.
The performances in "Cabaret" are solid. And Morick and Latessa display fine voices. But a fine voice is not what Hatcher, who is known for her film and television roles, needs when she tears through the show's title number. Wearing a short black dress, looking gaunt and in need of a fix, she practically howls as she tries to hold herself together. It is a stunning moment. The irony in the song is replaced with a sense of inevitable doom as Sally recites the story of Elsie's death from "pills and liquor" and then stomps off. It isn't often that you can turn a classic on its head.
"Where are your troubles now? Forgotten? I told you so. We have no troubles here! Here everything is beautiful," the Emcee nearly commands at the end. And then Mendes exposes the whole sordid scene in a chilling finale -- the inevitable doom that Sally has foretold. Go to the cabaret, old chum? You bet. It's an exciting piece of theater, but don't take the kids.
May 29, 1999 evening show at the Colonial Theatre in Boston
Emcee...........................Norbert Leo Butz
Sally Bowles....................Teri Hatcher
Clifford Bradshaw...............Rick Holmes
Ernst Ludwig....................Andy Taylor
Customs Official................Corey Brill
Fraulein Schneider..............Barbara Andres
Fraulein Kost...................Jeanine Morick
Herr Schultz....................Dick Latessa
Boy Soprano (recording).........Alex Bowen
Keep in mind that I saw Cabaret on Broadway before seeing it in Boston, so my opinions will differ from someone who is seeing it for the first time.
Overall, I thought the show was good. Norbert, of course, was great. The whole ride to the theatre I had a huge knot in my stomach, worrying over the possibility that and understudy might be on. This wasn't relieved until I actually saw him on stage. I was also worried having seen Alan Cumming, who was so incredible. But Norbert had a different interpretation of the role of the emcee, which I definately liked. I have heard other people say that he plays it more straight, and this is definately true. WILLKOMEN- This was a great number. Norb really drew me into the show, and the cast seemed to have lots of energy. I was also very impressed with his accents! TWO LADIES- This is such a fun song, and Norbert really brought that out. He really got into this one. TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME- The way Norb says "to me" at the end has a very spooky quality after the sugary sweetness of the rest of the song; a very good contrast. MONEY- This is another very fun song, and Norbert was great in it. IF YOU COULD SEE HER- Just the idea of a grown man (especially Norb) dancing around with a gorilla in a dress is enough to make me laugh, and this song certainly did. I DON'T CARE MUCH- By far the best I've ever heard this sung! Norb's voice was so beautiful during this song, it makes you want to cry.
I never knew Norbert was such a good dancer until "Kick Line." He was also very witty during "Entr'Acte." He was dancing with a woman from the audience, and asked her who she was there with. When she replied, "My husband," Norbert asked, "Does he like sandwiches?" Also, the show's ending was so incredibly powerful. The image that will stick in my mind forever was Norbert's motion to symbolize death. It was SO dramatic.
Teri Hatcher was just tolerable as Sally Bowles. I thought her English accent was decent, but it had an annoying drunk-sounding squeak to it. She was very strong in the first act, and definatley portrayed the character very well. My only real dissapointment was her "Cabaret."
I thought Barbara Anderson as Fraulein Schneider was very weak in the beginning, but she definately got better as the show went on. Dick Latessa was an amazing Herr Schultz, and Rick Holmes was a great Cliff. Everyone else was good, too.
If you haven't seen Cabaret, I highly recommend seeing it anywhere. It is a very powerful, moving show, and captures a range of emotions. It's very raunchy, but hilarious, and at the same time very sad.