Over the last 23 years onstage, Sherie Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz dated, married, and divorced in multiple on and Off Broadway productions. Offstage the artists were inextricably drawn, established profound friendship, sort of dated, married (not each other), had an explosive falling out when one of them imploded in 2006, and divorced (not each other, well, kind of each other).
Scott’s chronicle of their tempestuous relationship is a helluva piece of playwriting. The mostly (we’re told) autobiographical account features screwball charm, acutely observed idiosyncrasies, disruptive encounters, palpable seduction, and bruising emotional truth. Seamlessly embedded in narrative is a multi-genre collection of songs, some from shows in which they were featured, others just unerringly apt.
MD/Arranger Todd Almond inventively bridges songs with ambient music. Surgical precision allows dialogue to interweave illuminating lyrics. Arrangements are deftly theatrical.
“There are two dozen reasons NOT to do this!” Butz begins. He and Scott talk over each other with animosity between phrases of “Save It for Later” (English Beat). She seethes, he physically flails. The two approaches continue throughout. We can see her process things, while he reflexively reacts. She has a light, moxie-generated comic touch, while he’s perfected sincere blunder. Scott’s welling emotion is focused/contained, Butz’s courses through his flexible body. She stays onstage, often sitting, he can’t be contained.
“The first time I met her was in the alley…” Both were ensemble members in Rent. “He looked like a fitter, hotter Kurt Cobain.” (Manifestation of Squeegee Man from Rent is priceless.) “She looked like a more accessible Anna Nicole Smith.” They seemed each other’s sweet spots.
Scott was engaged, Butz in a fraying marriage with two children. “Dreamer, you stupid little dreamer/So now you put your head in your hands, oh no…” (“Dreamer”- Supertramp) The artists transform from rough hewn belters to unreconstructed crooners in a blink. Both have open-throated, all-in style. Characters blaze.
An Off Off Broadway production of Jason Robert Brown’s In the Last Five Years threw them together again. Morphing from (engagingly expressed) arguments about that script in front of an unseen director to several convincing songs from the musical, double entendre rises like irrepressible weeds. They shared a tiny dressing room, confidences, and an increasingly long onstage kiss. Butz would bring in his acoustic guitar so he and Scott could make additional music together.
“Day after day, I will walk and I will play/But the day after today, I will stop and I will start./Why can’t I get just one kiss?…(“Add It Up”- Violent Femmes) The hard rock blues, including almost spit parlando, is down and dirty. Scott’s husband had an ouch five year plan. Butz moved out of his home and bunked for a while with the couple. Temptation was rife. “Oh your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine/You think your dreams are the same as mine…” (“Poison & Wine”– The Civil Wars) Then, just when she… he met someone. Else.
A brilliant vaudeville rendition of “How Lucky Can You Get?” (Fred Ebb/ John Kander-Funny Girl) is performed while Butz, suffering successive tragedies in his life, deep dives into excess, falling apart off and then onstage. Cue “I’m Losing You” (Tom Kitt/Brian Yorkey-Next to Normal, in which they starred) Butz laced into Scott with the vehemence of a wounded, confused animal. They washed their hands of one another.
It took years of change and a good excuse to bring the friends together again. Though this is given less exposition, it’s affecting and credible. “Nothing is Too Wonderful to Be True” (David Yazbeck – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, in which they also starred) follows. We close exuberantly with a George Michael song. I’m confident in saying the entire audience is relieved this enviable bond has been renewed.
Stellar Direction by Dick Scalan creates a voyeuristic atmosphere (with music). Segues seem organic. Mutual admiration is persuasive, attraction juicy, anger raw.
Two Hander is resonant and entertaining; weaponized talent at the top of its collaborative game. Go!
Sherie Rene Scott/Norbert Leo Butz
Conceived by Sherie Rene Scott & Norbert Leo Butz
Written by Sherie Rene Scott
Music Direction/Arrangements/Piano-Todd Almond
Director- Dick Scanlan
Through July 28, 2019