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Tony nominee Orfeh returns to Broadway as another sexy sidekick
When director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell needed to cast the brassy, belting bestie in Broadway's Pretty Woman: The Musical, the two-time Tony winner knew exactly who to call: Orfeh. The last time Mitchell directed the mononymous actress, she earned a Tony nomination as the feisty BFF of lead Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. So she was his pick for Kit De Luca, the streetwise, wisecracking pal of pretty woman Vivian Ward (Samantha Barks), a charismatic prostitute who gets a makeover while melting the heart of a ruthless investment banker Edward Lewis (Andy Karl).
With songs by '80s rock icon Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, Pretty Woman is, of course, based on the popular 1990 cinematic fairy tale starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. But while Barks and Karl have big designer shoes to fill, Orfeh's character (played by Laura San Giacomo in the movie) isn't as well remembered. So the performer has been able to put her own sassy stamp on the part without worrying about messing with fans' expectations.
"The thing about Kit, and what I wanted very much to bring to the role on stage, is that she is always so supportive," says Orfeh. "She is such a good friend and she is so protective and funny, and I think that's why people relate to her so well. Everybody wishes they had a friend like Kit."
Like My Fair Lady, Pretty Woman is a reworking of the Pygmalion tale in which an older man shapes the destiny of a younger woman. Some critics have wondered if this kind of narrative is outmoded in our era of female empowerment. But Orfeh says she has no reservations about telling this story.
"I think when you go back and see the movie it's really not what people think it is," she says. "The main character, Vivian, is a very strong woman. It's one of the show's big catchphrases but it happens to be true: She rescues him right back."
For the main romantic narrative, the musical's book -- cowritten by the film's late director, Garry Marshall, and its original screenwriter, J.F. Lawton -- sticks close to the source material and includes nearly all of its famous lines. The production also features variations on the indelible outfits Roberts wore, such as the hot pants and thigh-high patent leather boots Vivian sports for her work and the off-the-shoulders red gown she dons at the opera. But Kit has a much richer arc than she did in the movie.
"I wanted Vivian to have an effect on Kit," says Mitchell. "The idea that we are all lost without dreams and hopes needed to be realized by Kit as well as Vivian." As such, Kit also undergoes a positive life transformation and gets her own production number, "Rodeo Drive," an over-the-top tribute to the celebrated shopping strip so prominently featured in the movie and show. "That voice," enthuses Mitchell about Orfeh's pipes. "Once I heard that song, I could only hear Orfeh in my head."
A native New Yorker who graduated from the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of the Arts, Orfeh started out as an R&B singer before segueing to theatre as a swing in Footloose. Since then, Broadway has shaped her life, both professionally and personally. She met her husband, Andy Karl (Rocky, On the Twentieth Century, Groundhog Day), when they worked together in Saturday Night Fever. They then costarred as love interests in Legally Blonde, and they're back together again in Pretty Woman, although that's a recent development. While Orfeh has been with the show since its first workshop two years ago, Karl joined the cast for the Broadway run, replacing former leading man Steve Kazee who left after the Chicago tryout.
So now she gets to watch her real-life spouse romance another woman on stage eight times a week, but Orfeh doesn't mind. "You know, it's going to sound strange, but I don't even notice!" she says. "I trust my costars. Samantha and I are very, very good friends, and Andy and I have been married a long time. I just want them to do a good job and make people fall in love with them."
Janice C. Simpson writes the blog Broadway & Me.
Top image: Orfeh in Pretty Woman: The Musical. Photos by Matthew Murphy.
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