Mitchell Butel in Avenue Q
Avenue Q Theatre Royal from August 11, 2009; www.avenueqthemusical.com.au
MITCHELL BUTEL says he comes from “a pretty funny family” and grew up in Maroubra. “My dad was a great singer and a contract cleaner,” says Butel. “He is my fiercest critic and supporter.”
Butel is one of Australia’s better known TV and movie faces – appearing in a wide range of roles in all kinds of shows such as Bordertown, Twisted Tales, GP, Murder Call, Wildside, All Saints, Grass Roots, MDA and The Bank. At the same time, he’s also a hugely popular performer on stage and in musical theatre.
Right now he’s back in Sydney in Avenue Q after a hugely successful Melbourne run of the show. “Audiences were physically convulsing,” says Butel, who has no medical training but can tell what an audience is doing despite the brightest footlights. “It went gangbusters, which was very nice for us.” And now it’s Sydney’s turn.
Avenue Q was a 2004 Tony Award winner and was placed in the directorial hands of Jonathan Biggins for its Australian premier. A wise move.
“Jonathan understands the spirit of it,” says Butel. “It’s been described as ‘Sesame Street on crack’ but there is empathy and compassion too and without that it isn’t funny.”
Butel, who plays a character called Princeton, has pretty much done what WC Fields warned actors never to do (appear with animals or kids) and is actually appearing with very large puppets.
“It’s true,” says Butel, with unseemly glee. “It essentially follows the Sesame Street episode format but it deals with topics like the GFC and internet porn, with these dinky Tom Lehrer-like melodies. I’d say it’s more Sesame Street meets South Park.
Butel actually started out doing law and his performing was confined to what he describes as “black t-shirt student stuff”. Then he had an epiphany while sharing an apartment with three NIDA students.
“I realised that what I liked about law was swooshing about in gowns and wigs, and not much else. Then watching these neurotic students I thought – why don’t I do that? I’m neurotic anyway.” And so he did.
“And doing this show is fun. It’s a great thing to be part of every night,” he says. “And it actually says something about tolerance and inclusion – and that’s rare in a musical which is usually all about helicopters and chandeliers.