Orfeh and Andy Karl Score As Paulette and Kyle in Legally Blonde
by Ellis Nassour
“Tweenboppers” rejoice: Legally Blonde has arrived on Broadway! Shop, shop, shop to your heart’s content in the show boutique.
There’s good news onstage, too. Laura Bell Bundy, Christian Borle, Orfeh, Andy Karl and all the Legally Blonde gang will be around a while in the show that got almost across-the-boards positive reviews. It’s been exciting audiences for weeks now, and has just been Drama Desk-nominated for Outstanding Musical. One might expect a few nods come Tony Award nomination time.
In the musical that officially opened last night [April 29] at the Palace, Orfeh, who’s stunningly, legally blonde, and the tall, handsome Karl play the irresistible “trailer trash,” hopelessly-in-love manicurist, Paulette Bonafonte, and the object of her manicured, pedicured lust, Kyle, the UPS guy. Their onstage chemistry is as strong as their offstage chemistry.
Leading lady Bundy, her main squeeze Christian Borle and Orfeh have also been DD-nominated for Outstanding Actress, Featured Actor and Featured Actress. Director Jerry Mitchell has received two nominations: Director and Choreography.
The Karls have worked onstage together five times, but Legally Blonde is that rarity: a married couple working together in the same Broadway show. [In a nice coincidence, Legally Blonde’s composers Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe are also married.]
Orfeh and Andy met during the last six months of Saturday Night Fever. Orfeh had been playing Annette and bringing the house down with her rendition of “If I Can’t Have Him,” when Karl joined the show. He hardly set foot inside the stage door before they started dating and segued into a mad courtship. In 2001, a week after SNF closed, they eloped.
Legally Blonde, based on the 2001 megahit that starred Reese Weatherspoon, is the story of Delta Nu sorority queen Elle Woods, played of course by Bundy [who’s starred in Wicked and the original cast of Hairspary and was DD-nominated for her role in Ruthless], who gets dumped by her boyfriend for someone “more serious.” Elle, not exactly magna cum laude, follows him to Harvard Law School, where she proves that being true to yourself never goes out of style.
Christian Borle [previously DD-nominated for Spamalot] co-stars as Emmett Richmond. The show also marks the return to the stage of Tony and DD-winner Michael Rupert as Professor Callahan.
During the pre-Broadway San Francisco run, the reviews for Orfeh and Karl were exemplary and only drowned out by screaming girls hunting down Karl. Of her salon super-diva Paulette, stuffed into hot pants and heels, one reviewer reported she was capable of setting the scenery on fire. Another loved her Fran Drescher-style comedics. Karl, it was noted, nearly steals the show and is akin to “walking porn.” One went so far as to write that "Kyle, the UPS guy, has a nice butt!” [Okay, she was the teen critic for the Oakland Tribune, but now we know what attracts young female critics!]
Orfeh came into the business as a pop/rock singer with a power voice. She can belt “and if called upon, even do opera. It might make people insane. I’ve broken a glass or two, not even trying!”
She admits she wasn’t the first choice for Paulette. “Because of my past [recording star with an international hit, songwriter], it’s been difficult getting roles. When I played Janis Joplin [Love, Janis], people in the business thought ‘That’s what she does.’ Casting people think I'm someone who’ll blaze you out of the room, not someone subtle and heartwarming. They're reluctant to allow someone to step outside the box they feel that person should be in.”
Thinking "bend and snap" Paulette, played so indelibly on film by Jennifer Coolidge, was the perfect role, Orfeh became quite determined, “but they wouldn’t see me for a year. I wasn't their idea – physical, age, height – of Paulette. They never say, ‘Orfeh. Funny,’ but comedy’s where I live! Some started to get it when I was in …Trailer Park.”
Karl had been involved in Legally Blonde’s road to Broadway. “Paulette seemed to be the hardest role to cast. They saw everyone. Nothing clicked. Every reading, it was somebody new. At some point, I suggested ‘Hey, how about my wife?’” He stops, glances at Orfeh and smiles. “Or am I just making this part up?” “Probably,” she laughs.
They worked on the parts at home, but she got the role based on her audition. “The seventh one,” she squeals. “That’s when I nailed it!” Adds Karl, “That’s when they fell in love with her.” States Orfeh, “It was just a matter of convincing them I’m not this hard ass rock chick.”
Without a lot of brainiac thinking, it was also “when it dawned on Jerry [Mitchell] that we’d make a great team,” reports Karl.
The couple may be the embodiment of the old axiom that opposites attract. He’s 6’2”, she’s 5’4” [much taller with heels!]. “I never understood why she’d be crazy enough to want to be with me,” he states. “Oh, shut up!” she replies. “You’re one of the most handsome men on the planet.” Later, she adds, “Andy wasn’t someone up on a screen that I couldn’t get to.”
In explaining what makes their marriage work, Orfeh says, “We’re normal. We’re not wrapped up in the business of show. When we come home, there’s talk, but it’s not the all-consuming reason for our existence.”
Karl says, “Our differences compliment each other, and there’s no ego. I’d be happy if Orfeh was making millions and I could buy a Mercedes.”
Orfeh, cracking up, blurts, “What! I don’t know about that!”
Karl admits that even though he loves to work, “and I’ve been lucky to keep working, I’m not one of those persons who says, ‘I’ve got to make the money.’ We support each other’s career.” [He's now pursuing musical theater composing.]
Orfeh's one word name is not pretension. "It fascinates me that people think I came up with it. Never! That’s a name only a mother could come up with. Mom was big fan of the film Black Orpheus [based on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and set during Carnival in Rio]. The girl is Orfeo and Mom got it into her head that was what her child was going to be named. Regardless of sex!"
A born and bred New Yorker [Karl’s from Baltimore] with a French and Italian heritage, she does say that her name intrigues people. "Someone recently thought I was Asian!” In public school here, she continues, "no one even batted an eye when roll call was called. I was the least unique person. Even when I got into the music business, no one batted an eye.”