More than 50 members of the Butz family gathered around a television in St. Louis to watch Norbert Leo Butz win his first Tony award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical.
As Norbert’s name was called, his brother Tim Butz recalls the entire house going crazy with excitement. They were yelling. They were laughing. And, they were crying.
“We just knew that now, he’s really, really made it,” Tim Butz said.
Six years later, the tears flowed again as Webster alumnus Norbert Leo Butz accepted his second Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. However, this time was a much more subdued celebration.
“This award doesn’t mean that I’m the best at anything,” Norbert Leo Butz said in his acceptance speech on June 12. “But it does mean that I might be the most grateful man in this room tonight.”
Part of his gratefulness comes from the struggle Norbert Leo Butz went through during his award-winning show, “Catch Me If You Can,” which opened at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. His first performance came just four days after the funeral of Teresa Butz, his sister.
“This is for my father I based my character on, and for my sister,” Norbert Leo Butz said while accepting his second award. “I love you Teresa. We remember you every night.”
Teresa Butz was brutally raped and stabbed in her home in Seattle on July 19, 2009. Her partner, who was also sexually assaulted and stabbed, survived. The murder made national news and set back “Catch Me If You Can” while Norbert Leo Butz and his family mourned the death of the beloved daughter, sister and aunt.
The murder shocked the entire Butz family and had an impact on both Norbert Leo Butz and “Catch Me If You Can.” Norbert Leo Butz said the cast supported him both on and off stage and helped him make sense of those confusing, traumatic days.
“I’m really grateful for that job,” Norbert Leo Butz said. “It grounded me. I was surrounded by a really great group of actors, a lot who I’d worked with before and a director I’d worked with. I felt very safe. I found going back to work was really best for me. I needed to go back and do something that I knew how to do.”
From a young age, Norbert Leo Butz and his siblings were singing. His younger brother Tim Butz, a fifth grade teacher at Maplewood Richmond Heights Elementary School, said his family used to sit around singing old country songs.
“We’ve never not known music and singing,” Tim Butz said. “It’s a natural part of our lives.”
At Bishop DuBourg High School, Norbert Leo Butz discovered acting through the plays of William Shakespeare and Arthur Miller. He played the male lead roles for local all-girl high schools like Cor Jesu Academy and Nerinx Hall High School. Tommy Nolan, teacher and counselor at Cor Jesu since 1981, encouraged Norbert Leo Butz to attend Webster University, her alma mater, to study acting.
Norbert Leo Butz was accepted to Webster’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts in 1985. He said he knew right away he had made the right choice.
“When I first got to Webster, there was a man in charge of acting, Michael Pierce. He passed away in 1988. He was, and still is, the greatest teacher I ever had. I still try to imagine him being in the audience,” Norbert Leo Butz said. “He was the type of teacher that made you want to just be excellent. He inspired that kind of respect, not just for him personally but for good acting. That’s the class that really grabbed me, and I’ve not stopped pursuing acting since.”
Norbert Leo Butz graduated from Webster in 1990 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Regional Theatre and a minor in political science.
Tim Butz said Norbert Leo Butz knew he had to pursue acting in New York City, where there were more jobs and more money. He had been in New York just a few weeks when Tim Butz said he was approached while singing in a bar to try out for the show “RENT,” then the hottest show on Broadway.
“He was in the right place at the right time,” Tim Butz said. “He got to understudy (the parts of) Roger and Mark. And he has not stopped working since.”
Since replacing the original Roger Davis, played by Adam Pascal, in the Broadway performance of “RENT,” Norbert Leo Butz has starred as the original Fiyero in “Wicked,” Jamie in “The Last Five Years,” and the Emcee in “Cabaret.” In 2005, he won his first Tony award for the part of Freddy in the Broadway revival of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
But Broadway is not the only place to see Norbert Leo Butz. In 2007, he starred next to Steve Carrell and Dane Cook in the movie “Dan in Real Life,” and just last year he played Rowdy Kaiser in the ABC legal drama “The Deep End.”
“I don’t really have a favorite role,” Norbert Leo Butz said. “There’s a saying in the business, ‘your favorite role is always the next one.’ It’s really true. In my line of work, you can’t really rest on your laurels and get comfy.”
His brother Tim Butz says that live performance is absolutely Norbert Leo Butz’s first love, but he will take any chance to work on his craft.
“I personally think some of his best work was in those little studio theaters at Webster and the St. Louis Repertory Theatre,” Tim Butz said. “He really loves small, closer audiences. You can see the nuances of his performances in those theaters.”
On Aug. 10, 2011, “Catch Me If You Can” announced it would show its final performance on Sept. 4. Norbert Leo Butz said he is currently considering his options for new shows and organizing a winter concert for his family’s side-project, the Angel Band Project.
After Teresa Butz’s murder, her family, friends and partner got together to cope with the loss through music. Through donated studio time and spontaneous jam sessions, the group named themselves the Angel Band Project and produced a CD titled “Take You With Me.” The project, labeled as “part benefit album, part musical prozac,” donates all money raised by CD sales, concerts and other fundraising efforts to The Voices and Faces Project, a national non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about rape and abuse.
“Singing was just a way to kind of get through it,” Norbert Leo Butz said. “It’s been a healing thing. I think we’ll continue to heal ourselves. It was two years this July, and everyone is still sort of trying to pick up the pieces.”
Tim Butz and Norbert Leo Butz both said “Take You With Me” brought the family closer together and helped them mourn the loss of Teresa Butz. One CD and a Tony award later, the family is still reeling from the events of that July night in 2009.
“We all (family and friends) sang songs at (Teresa’s) funeral,” Norbert Leo Butz said. “After her funeral, her two best girlfriends from kindergarten had this idea to take songs and reach a wider audience to raise awareness for victims of sexual violence. (The Angel Band Project) was painful but a great sort of sense of closure. It was a chance to take a really horrible situation and make something really beautiful with it.”