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BWW Review: NORBERT LEO BUTZ SINGS TORCH SONGS FOR A PANDEMIC Is a Tonic For the Soul at 54 Below

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Norbert Leo Butz Scores in His Third Show at 54 Below

BWW Review: NORBERT LEO BUTZ SINGS TORCH SONGS FOR A PANDEMIC Is a Tonic For the Soul at 54 Below

Norbert Leo But is an actor who is hard to pin a label on. It's hard to believe that Jamie Wellerstein, Alfie Doolittle, Paddy Chayefsky, Agent Carl Hanratty, Freddy Benson Edward Bloom, and Fiyero all came out of the same brain space. And yet, that very chameleon-like versatility has been the hallmark of his Broadway career. Tonight, at 54 Below, in his show Norbert Leo Butz SINGS TORCH SONGS FOR A PANDEMIC, he had only one character to play, a charming, if sometimes complicated actor called Norbert. It was the music itself that displayed chameleon-like versatility tonight. It was mostly rock, but it ran the gamut from Bruce Springsteen to Neil Young, Ron Sexsmith, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, Fleetwood Mac, and Neil Diamond.

Norbert Leo Butz ( The Last Five Years, Wicked, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Enron, Catch Me If You Can, Big Fish, My Fair Lady) is a fantastic storyteller. His two Tony awards are testament to that. His story tonight was, as the title suggests, about the pandemic, yes, but above all, it was about his first love: music. A love he discovered studying etudes as a child with a curmudgeonly piano teacher who didn't much care for kids. While practicing Chopin and Czerny, he would be distracted by the sounds of Neil Diamond and Bruce Springsteen coming from his brothers' room in the basement. He has 6 brothers, 11 siblings in total. It didn't take long for classical music to fall by the wayside. He paid tribute to that long-ago distraction, Springsteen, with "Brilliant Disguise."BWW Review: NORBERT LEO BUTZ SINGS TORCH SONGS FOR A PANDEMIC Is a Tonic For the Soul at 54 Below

He spent much of the pandemic separated from his family, working on a project in Vancouver. The separation was not easy, and it was music that was the touchstone that pulled him through. This sense of isolation was summed up beautifully in the Foo Fighter's "Learn to Fly." He used Canadian songwriter, Ron Sexsmith's song "There's Gold in Them Hills" almost as a mantra during those lonely months. He also paid tribute to the most famous of Canadian writers, Joni Mitchell, with a really great arrangement of her seminal hit, "A Case of You."

He welcomed a very special guest star to the stage. Crystal Monee Hall is a soul singer who has worked with Mickey Hart of The Grateful Dead, Cynthia Erivo, Kristin Chenoweth, and Ben Platt. She was a cast member of Rent and appeared on Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Stephen Colbert. She brought her soulful style to a duet with Butz on Santigold's "Les Artistes. " She then remained on stage and sang in all the remaining numbers. These included great arrangements of Neil Young's "Unknown Legend," Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five," and Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way." All three songs meant something entirely different in the context of the pandemic. I was especially impressed by "Nine to Five," which was slowed down and given an Arlo Guthrie-type protest vibe. It was an amazing reinvention of a classic song.

BWW Review: NORBERT LEO BUTZ SINGS TORCH SONGS FOR A PANDEMIC Is a Tonic For the Soul at 54 Below

Norbert Leo Butz played the piano himself with a band of bass, drums, and cello. When Ms. Hall was onstage he switched to playing guitar and was equally impressive. Mr. Butz has always been a singer of great passion and much soul. Singing about the pandemic seems to have heightened those qualities. It was a very moving evening of songs about survival and fortitude and the transformational healing power of love. Norbert Leo Butz SINGS TORCH SONGS FOR THE PANDEMIC was about more than surviving a plague. It was about mourning those who are gone, embracing those who are still here, and finding the commonality in all people who have shared this trying time.

For more information on Norbert Leo Butz, follow him @NorbertLButz on Twitter or @norbert_leo_butz on Instagram. To learn more about Crystal Monee Hall, visit cystalmoneehall.com. For more great acts at 54 Below, go to 54below.com.


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