NEW YORK — Not that he’s complaining, but Norbert Leo Butz has often been the only guy in the room lately.
The Tony Award-winner currently starring in the Netflix series “Bloodline” has a mom, two teenage daughters, a baby girl, a wife and an ex-wife. Even his beloved dog is a girl. But that doesn’t mean he always understands the fairer sex.
“The reality of my life is that I’m communicating with women — many generations — all the time and was kind of getting frustrated,” he said. “I was starting to wonder if I was missing something sort of integral in my knowledge of women.”
One night, he was walking the dog and listening to his iPod when he heard three songs in a row that had women in the title of the song. That got him searching for other songs with titular female characters in his music collection.
Dog walking over, Butz didn’t stop there. He began exploring Greek mythology, gender studies and Jungian psychology. Then he married what he learned to his iTunes library.
The result was one of the ambitious cabaret shows in years and a new CD based on it, “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Onstage and on the disc, Butz retells the stories of Greek goddesses like Hera, Aphrodite, Athena or Persephone and then sings a contemporary song that matches their essence.
So Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, triggers the country song “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” and Demeter, goddess of agriculture and fertility, inspires a version of Tom Waits’ “Martha.” Butz tries his hand at songs from Elvis Costello and Johnny Cash to 1980s cult pop hits like “Come on Eileen.”
The first time he realized he had stumbled on a cool concept was while he was reading about Hera — the angry, frustrated wife of cheating Zeus — and he listened to Loretta Lynn’s song “Mrs. Leroy Brown,” about a wife who confronts her skirt-chasing husband. Something clicked in his head.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that is a contemporary, Butcher Hollow Hera,'” he said, laughing. “There’s nobody scarier than a Southern woman when she’s been misused.”
Someone who caught Butz’s cabaret act in 2013 was Van Dean, a Broadway producer and president of Broadway Records, who has worked with Butz on the Broadway shows “Big Fish” and “Catch Me if You Can.” Dean wanted to record the show.
“It just felt like the most fun college course you might ever take,” he said. “He had all these amazing, interesting stories juxtaposed with all these fantastic songs done the way only he can. You put that all together and it’s pretty fascinating. I knew it had to be an album.”
The cabaret show and CD have forced Butz to face how he actually views and interacts with women, and he realized he has a lot more growing to do.
“I’ve always presented (myself) as this progressive champion of women, nurturer of women, and yet I find myself contributing in ways, maybe subtle, that maybe don’t always align with what I’m putting out there as an image,” he said.
Butz is in Florida shooting season three of “Bloodline,” in which he plays the hot-headed son of a prominent but dysfunctional family. His character seems always on the verge of violence, but Butz refuses to play someone who hurts women.
The actor has pledged to not perform such scenes after his sister was killed in 2009 by an intruder. It’s a brave stand in keeping with his female-centric new album. He said he physically couldn’t do it.
“I think there’s a surfeit of it. I think, ‘Enough. Enough,'” he said. “Abusing or debasing the physical body of a woman in any kind of violent or sexually violent way — I don’t see how I’d be able to do that.”
Butz promises to return to the stage and is considering a few plays in New York. As for mixing his love of music and acting on Broadway, we may have to wait. “I will come back in a hopefully big ol’ fantastic musical when I get my youngest kid through a couple more grades,” he said.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits