E. Faye Butler Performs Jazz at the
Doing It Her Way
E. Faye Butler’s October 25th performance, Songbook of
Jazz, at the Overture Center for the Arts is sold out.
band that is an 11-piece orchestra. I can strip it down from one piece all the way up to 11 pieces depending on what the venue wants.”
Butler enjoys versatility in her roles as well, which has kept her engaged as well as employed.
“Portraying villains is nice because you can let out a lot of angst,” Butler said. “You kind of let it out in that. I mean I love those roles, but I love roles that are
extremely complicated. They don’t necessarily have to be villains. I like characters that are three-dimensional and well-rounded, that have depth to them. It’s boring
just saying, ‘Rah, rah, rah.’ People stop listening to you if you scream all night. So you have to have dimensions and levels. Right now, I am doing Gypsy and
Momma Rose or Madame Rose. Madame Rose is a very three-dimensional character because she is based loosely on someone that actually lived. I’ve had a lot of
Momma Roses in my life. Having a character like that is really meaty because you can bring different layers to it. That kind of excites me a lot more than just being a
villain. Sometimes being a villain you can get it up, but I like it when you can find different levels.”
Butler is all in with theater. She is enamored with its history and its traditions and enjoys being part of that mystique and glamour. In 2012, Butler was nominated by
two theaters — a first — to be a Lunt-Fontanne Fellow. Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne were the first couple of theater for several decades who spent nine months of
the year acting together on the Broadway stages and three months during the summer at their Genesee Depot, Wisconsin 60-acre estate, Ten Chimneys, where they
would host Broadway stars like Sir Laurence Olivier and Helen Hayes.
“Every year, they select 10-12 artists in a particular discipline of the theater that they honor and bring to Ten Chimneys to spend an entire week,” Butler said. “You go
through a master class, one of the masters of what you do. So they chose 12 of us that year and they gave us a master teacher, Joel Gray. We were from around the
country. For those seven days, you get to do things that people won’t normally be able to do. It’s the one time that they fill the pool at Ten Chimneys. And only the
fellows can swim in it. You become a part of a very exclusive club. And that’s because back in the day, people who are big theater fans remember that the Lunts
used to have friends come to Wisconsin and visit. And they used to swim in that pool every summer. And because there were so many trees around, they would
swim nude. That was the day when people wanted to get away from New York or Hollywood. All of the biggest stars of their time would come to the grounds in
Wisconsin and that is where they would spend their summers. So when you are a Lunt-Fontanne fellow, you get the opportunity to tour the grounds. You study on the
grounds. You eat in their dining room on their china. You get to be a part of that very exclusive group of people who Lunt and Fontanne would have invited into their
home and you are in their home. It was quite extraordinary and you are treated very well by the foundation. It’s a very high honor. I wear it proudly.”
And it is through her association with Ten Chimneys that Butler will be performing at the Overture Center.
“Ten Chimneys wanted to make sure people knew who the fellows were and knew how celebrated they were,” Butler said. “And so, they’ve been doing a series
around the country where Ten Chimneys presents one of the fellows in some kind of art form. I’ve been on a couple of these where Ten Chimneys presents. We’re
doing it at the Overture. It’s a cabaret style performance. In this particular one for Overture, they only wanted piano, so it’s only me and my musical director. We’re
doing a 60-90 minute performance. It’s a variety of music. We will perform jazz, blues and some show stuff. We relate different stories like a basic cabaret would.”
As a true performer, when informed that it was a sold-out show, Butler still wanted to reach higher.
“Maybe it will be SRO,” Butler said with a laugh.
When E. Faye Butler performs in Songbook of Jazz, expect it to be an enthralling and highly entertaining show. Butler wouldn’t have it any other way. And that’s
doing it her way.
By Jonathan Gramling
E. Faye Butler, who will be performing in Songbook of Jazz to a sold-out audience at the Overture Center
on October 25th, has done it her way. Butler left her native Chicago to meet her fate at Rockford Auburn
High School. She caught the theater bug and has never looked back. While she may have worked the
make-up counter at a department store while attending Illinois State and Goodman School of Theater —
which she feels was still connected to theater — Butler has been doing what she loves ever since.
“I am one of those rare, rare cases and very blessed by God himself to only have done what I wanted to
do my entire life,” Butler said. “I never had to do anything outside of entertaining. And that is very rare. I
know it’s rare. Absolutely it’s a blessing.”
Butler is a classically-trained actor who expanded her skill set so that she could do what she loves to
do — entertain — for her 40-year career.
“I started singing because I wanted to work,” Butler said with a chuckle. “Sometimes it just goes to
show you that the thing that becomes your bread and butter is not necessarily the thing that you studied.
I’ve been very fortunate. It’s something that I’ve always done. I do cabarets. I do lots of straight shows
too. I’ve worked theaters all over the country. I’ve travelled around the world singing and doing my
cabaret as well as developing shows with a partner of mine whom I sing with, Felicia Fields. I have a