Butel became interested in theatre as a child after seeing the musical Song and Dance and later Little Shop of Horrors.
Butel attended the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and studied for a degree in Law, working as a paralegal in a law firm between terms. After a short time he changed the focus of his studies and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies. He was part of the original Australian Avenue Q cast in 2009. He played the roles of two puppet characters in the production: Princeton (a recent college graduate) and Rod (a closet Republican homosexual). The Australian production opened in June 2009 at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne, Victoria. The production then went to Sydney in August and then toured Canberra, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Auckland in New Zealand. He earned a Helpmann Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance.
In 2010, Butel took part in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival with his cabaret show Killing Time. Since then, he has taken part in three Opera Australia productions. Butel has worked extensively for many theatre companies including: Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Bell Shakespeare, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne, Belvoir St Theatre, Queensland Theatre Company, The Production Company, Griffin Theatre Company and the State Theatre Company of South Australia appearing in productions such as Six Degrees of Separation, The Cafe Latte Kid, Tartuffe, Mourning Becomes Electra, A View from the Bridge, Othello, Stones in His Pockets, Boeing-Boeing, The Government Inspector, Strange Interlude, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, Meow Meow's Little Match Girl, Romeo and Juliet, Woyzeck, Emerald City, Arms and the Man, Disgraced, Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play and The Merchant of Venice as Shylock. His music theatre credits include Little Me, Assassins, Kismet, Follies, Man of La Mancha, Dusty - The Original Pop Diva, Grease, Urinetown, Oklahoma!, Tom Foolery, Hair, Sugar and The Producers. He is also the voice of the Play School theme song.
In June and July 2013, Butel played a lead role in the Belvoir St Theatre production of Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.
In 2013, he also played Hysterium opposite Geoffrey Rush as Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
In 2015, he made his New York debut at the New Victory Theater in the Windmill Performing Arts adaptation of Pinocchio.
Butel has been awarded three Helpmann Awards for Best Actor in a Musical for The Mikado (2012), Avenue Q (2010) and The Venetian Twins (2005) and was nominated for Little Me (2008), Summer Rain (2006) and The Republic of Myopia (2005). Butel has also received two Green Room Awards for Best Male Actor in a Featured Role (Music Theatre) for Piaf (2000) and Hair (2002).
Butel has been nominated for two Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Feature Film for Gettin' Square (2003) and Strange Fits of Passion (1999). His other film credits include 2:22 (2016), Holding the Man (2014), The Bank (2001), Two Hands (1999) and Dark City (1998). His television credits include Deep Water (TV series) (2016), Janet King (2016), Hiding (2014), The Broken Shore (2013), Mr & Mrs Murder (2013), Rake (2012), Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King (2006), MDA (2003), Grass Roots (2000), Wildside (1998), G.P. (1994-1996) and Bordertown (1995).
He has been a member of Actors Equity since 1988 and is represented as an actor by Shanahan Management.
In May 2011, Butel made his Opera Australia debut in the Gilbert and Sullivan production The Mikado where he played the comedic role of Ko-Ko. In February 2013, he took part in another Opera Australia Production Orpheus in the Underworld where he played the role of John Styx.
Later in 2013 Butel performed the part of Luther Billis in South Pacific.
Killing Time is a live album Butel recorded during the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2010, and consists of songs with a time-related theme, as well as poetry and anecdotes. The album features a mixture of genres including jazz and cabaret. Butel has also performed the Killing Time songs at other venues, including the Seymour Centre and the Cremorne Theatre. The album was released in March 2012. He can also be heard on the original cast recordings of The Republic of Myopia, Meow Meow's Little Match Girl and Opera Australia's The Mikado.
Butel's writing credits include Excellent Adventure and Killing Time and he wrote additional material for Meow Meow's Little Match Girl, Belvoir St Theatre's production of The Government Inspector and Opera Australia's production of The Mikado. His directing credits include Violet at the Hayes Theatre which was awarded Best Production of an Independent Musical at the 2015 Sydney Theatre Awards and for which he was awarded Best Director of a Musical. Violet had its Melbourne season at Chapel Off Chapel. He directed the winning play of the 2016 Lysiscrates Prize for New Australian Playwriting, Mary Rachel Brown's Approximate Balance. In 2016, Butel directed Spring Awakening for Australian Theatre for Young People which won Best Production for Young People at the Sydney Theatre Awards and Porgy and Bess at the Sydney Opera House for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. In 2018 Butel will direct the Australian Premiere of Jordan Harrison's play, Marjorie Prime as part of the Ensemble Theatre's 60th Anniversary Season.