Can you share your life with pee for the next ten minutes?
There are a lot of reasons an actor might miss a theatrical performance — calling out due to illness, a death in the family, etc. But two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz once missed a performance of Off Broadway cult hit The Last Five Years for a more criminal reason.
While discussing his new cabaret show Twohander, in which he stars with Last Five Years costar Sherie Rene Scott, Butz revealed to EW that he didn’t make it to a performance one night because he was arrested for indecent exposure.
“I did miss one performance of The Last Five Years,” he recounts. “We ran it for about two months. I live in New Jersey, I was driving in. I was stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, and I had to go to the bathroom so bad I pulled over to the side of the road. I went under a viaduct and I started to relieve myself when a police officer pulled up and arrested me for indecent exposure and gave me a ticket.”
Scott says on her end of things, it was cause for alarm given that cellphones hadn’t quite become mainstream yet and the incident happened only a few months after 9/11. “All we know is that we don’t know where Norbert is, and so, we have to put on the understudy, who as you can imagine, going on as an understudy in this role would be daunting, to say the least, if you’ve never been on,” she recalls. “Norbert showed up later. He showed up like at the end of the show, in this frantic thing, and just said, he’d been arrested for public urination. It was just perfect.”
Though Scott and Butz have remained friends for 23 years and appeared together in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on Broadway, The Last Five Years is the collaboration for which theater fans know them best.
Butz credits the show’s endurance to the emotional rawness of the writing. “The writing is very close to the bone. It’s very raw, it’s very emotional and yet the lyrics are extremely smart,” he explains. “This show has gone on to have this great life. It’s been like a wine that is just aged better and better and better. It was just a few months after 9/11, and we were doing this really intimate show in a time of real tragedy, a time of real mourning, and we really relied on each other. We were together constantly through that process.”
Scott agrees with Butz’s assessment, but adds that she thinks that rawness comes through on the cast album, which helped the show have a second life beyond their Off Broadway production, even eventually resulting in a film adaptation. “We recorded it in seven hours on our day off, after doing eight shows a week of a show with only two people,” she says. “The relationship Norbert and I had, and felt for each other, comes through on that recording.”
One thing that has emerged in the nearly two decades since the show premiered — a clear dislike by many fans (especially female ones) of Butz’s character Jamie. Butz says it’s not something he’s been super keyed into, but Scott adds they lovingly mock both Jamie and her character Cathy during Twohander, which features songs from The Last Five Years.
“There is some criticism dramaturgically, that the power is weighted toward the male character. But the interesting thing is I think it’s a sleight of hand,” says Butz. “Some of the anger about Jamie may come from the fact, [that] he’s holding all the cards in a lot of ways at the beginning of the relationship. It’s a beautiful piece because it does show two very flawed people navigating marriage, which is a huge, mysterious undertaking at any age, and so, I have compassion for both of them. I always have.”
Twohander runs at Feinstein’s/54 Below July 9-28.