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Monday 08 November 2010

Puppet to assassin: Mitchell Butel

Posted in: Performance
By Jacqui Stanford - 24th July 2010

Mitchell Butel
From a gay puppet to the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, Australian actor Mitchell Butel is finding plenty of diverse roles in Auckland.

He was last seen on a New Zealand stage playing the lead roles of Princeton and Rod in crowd-pulling musical Avenue Q. From this weekend he appears in Silo Theatre's production of Assassins, which is the work of American gay musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim's look at nine people who made attempts to kill American Presidents.

Butel is taking the lead role of John Wilkes Booth in the Oliver Driver-directed show; something he concedes is a rather long way from the characters in 'dirty puppet musical' Avenue Q. He says Booth is an incredible person to play.

"The man was a very passionate man. He really believed that the death of Lincoln was something that would benefit the country. As misguided or psychotic as that may be, to play that kind of passion is very compelling, hopefully, to watch – and to play as well."

He is particularly enjoying going from the Sesame St-esque song style on Avenue Q to the mightier music in Assassins. "I sing this song The Ballad of Booth which is a big kind of fat, legit song. It's very different to the kind of hinky-dinky puppet songs."

Butel says Assassins was written pre-9/11 and has become even more potent. "America sets itself up with the notion of the American dream, that anyone can be president. So basically anyone who is not president and who doesn't get the dream is considered a failure really. There's a lot of resentment and I think, self-disgust, within America because it's such an aspirational society."

The actor says although Assassins is obviously about historical figures and assassination, it's also about disillusionment, purposelessness and a feeling of not being listened to, "the kind of resentment where you can go and hurt someone else. But having said that it's quite dark, but it's also done in a carnivalesque, circusy way too."

It's been a busy few months for Butel. After Avenue Q he was in a Melbourne Theatre Company play, before performing his own show Killing Time at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival before popping back to this side of the ditch for Assassins.

The Sydney native is enjoying making the City of Sails a temporary home, with the majority of his belongings sitting in storage, where they have been for a couple of years. "Auckland is kind of my home at the moment. I love Auckland, I've been up the Waitakeres and out to Piha and to Karekare, I love it here. I could easily live here."

Aside from all his travels, the performer has also made time for charity, lining up alongside Sir Ian McKellan to support the glbt Sydney charity the Aurora Group through appearing at its tenth anniversary dinner last month. "It's a brilliant organisation," Butel says. He says the event was very inspirational and he had the honour of introducing Sir Ian, which he describes as a 'boon'.

Assassins plays 24 July - 14 August at the Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, THE EDGE.Tickets: $25 - $55 (booking fees apply)

Jacqui Stanford - 24th July 2010

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