Butterell grew up in "a tough part of Sheffield, England", and was an actor and dancer. Matthew Bourne invited him to dance class and also asked for his help in movement. Sam Mendes then asked him to choreograph Company at the Donmar Warehouse (London).
Off-Broadway he directed Inner Voices at the Zipper Factory, New York, in 2008, a three-play work that starred Victoria Clark, Jennifer Damiano, and Barbara Walsh. He directed a new Inner Voices:Solo Musicals in April 2010 as presented by Premieres and Primary Stages at 59E59Theatres, New York. He choreographed the Lynn Ahrens - Stephen Flaherty musical A Man of No Importance in 2002. Butterell provided musical staging for the Michael John LaChiusa musical See What I Wanna See in 2005 at the Public Theater.
On Broadway he choreographed the 2003 revival of Nine. He also was the choreographer for Nine in London. He was the choreographer for the 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof and The Light in the Piazza in 2005.
He choreographed for the 1999 workshop production of the Stephen Sondheim - John Weidman musical Wise Guys at the New York Theatre Workshop, directed by Sam Mendes, which eventually was produced as Road Show.
For the Royal National Theatre he choreographed Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards and Othello; in 1996 he was the movement director of Six Characters in Search of an Author for the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. He devised and directed the Michael Ball concert Alone Together (2004). He directed the premiere of the musical Giant by Michael John LaChiusa and Sybille Pearson at the Signature Theatre, Arlington, Virginia in 2009. For Opera North, Leeds he was the co-director and choreographer of Sweeney Todd in 2002.
He was the choreographer for several films, including Finding Neverland (2004).
- Gold, Silviane.Dance theater - Melinda Roy, a former dancer, and Jonathan Butterell ,a trained actor, have become choreographers" Archived 2006-02-24 at the Wayback Machine. Dance Magazine, May 2003
- "'Company' 1995" sondheimguide.com, accessed March 25, 2011
- "1998 Donmar Warehouse, London Production" sondheimguide.com, accessed March 26, 2011
- "Donmar Announces How I Learned to Drive Cast" whatsonstage.com, 19 May 1998
- Jonathan Butterell credits alone_together.tripod.com, accessed March 25, 2011
- Isherwood, Charles."Woman Troubles, in a Handy Musical Variety Pack " The New York Times, May 23, 2008
- Isherwood, Charles."Theater Review:'Inner Voices'" The New York Times, April 8, 2010
- Brantley, Ben."Theater Review: Not Just a Nobody, He's a Wilde Man" The New York Times, October 11, 2002
- Simonson, Robert."To Tell the Truth: Michael John LaChiusa's 'See What I Wanna See' Opens Off-Broadway Oct. 30" Archived 2010-02-06 at the Wayback Machine. playbill.com, October 30, 2005
- Brantley, Ben."Gals, Gams and Glamour" The New York Times, April 11, 2003
- Brantley, Ben."Theater Review: A Cozy Little McShtetl" The New York Times, February 27, 2004
- "1999 Workshop of Wise Guys" sondheimguide.com, accessed March 25, 2011
- "'Six Characters in Search of an Author' listing, 1996" abbeytheatre.ie, accessed March 26, 2011
- Shuttleworth, Ian. Review compulink.co.uk (Written for the Financial Times), show opened 27 September 2004
- Harris, Paul."'Giant', Signature Max Theater" Variety, May 13, 2009
- Paddock, Terri."Opera North's Sweeney Launches New Tour in Leeds" whatsonstage.com, 17 April 2002