One of the most romantic love stories ever filmed is now on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre, with a real-life couple in the cast. But there’s a twist: That real-life couple isn’t the one falling for each other on stage. In the new musical adaptation of Pretty Woman, three-time Tony Award nominee Andy Karl stars as Edward Lewis, the mogul who finds his soulmate on a corner of Hollywood Boulevard. Karl’s wife of 17 years, Tony nominee Orfeh, plays Kit De Luca, the sassy best friend, and roommate of lovestruck heroine Vivian Ward (Samantha Barks).
“We don’t have one second of stage time together,” a laughing Orfeh says of Karl, “although Edward and Kit do stand next to each other at the curtain call!”
The fact that the pair will be making their third joint Broadway appearance when the show begins performances July 20 is a happy surprise. “I never expected it,” affirms Karl, who joined the cast after Steve Kazee dropped out for family reasons. “But when [director and choreographer] Jerry Mitchell called me, it felt like kismet. Pretty Woman is a great show, Jerry directed us in Legally Blonde, and [the film’s director and cowriter] Garry Marshall was a good friend and loyal supporter of mine. Everything fell into place.”
Off stage, Karl and Orfeh make a striking pair, finishing each other’s sentences and expressing deep admiration for each other’s talent. The tall and handsome Karl rushes into their joint interview after a costume fitting at Tom Ford, designer of choice for young tycoons such as Edward. Quietly charismatic, he appears unfazed at having taken on three iconic roles created by movie stars, in musical versions of Rocky, Groundhog Day, and now Pretty Woman. (More on that challenge later.) His wife is a tiny dynamo, a straight-talking native New Yorker with a powerhouse voice who can sound like Janis Joplin (a role she played Off-Broadway) one minute and Whitney Houston the next.
“Musical comedy doesn’t come together any better than when you have Orfeh and Andy Karl,” declares Mitchell, who cast them as manicurist Paulette (of “Bend and Snap” fame) and sexy UPS Guy Kyle in Legally Blonde. “I am always inspired by their talent and support of each other. Orfeh plus music plus Andy plus comedy equals an amazing team, show, couple, Broadway!” In fact, when Mitchell heard “Rodeo Drive Baby,” the blazing ballad penned for Kit by composers Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, he called Orfeh and announced, “There’s only one person on the planet who can sing this song: you!”
Beyond their star power, the couple’s complementary personalities — he thinks everything through, she trusts her gut — perfectly suit their characters in Pretty Woman. Edward, a corporate raider, “is on a trajectory that isn’t pleasant,” Karl says. “There’s something within him that won’t open up. He knows he needs to change, but he doesn’t know how, then he’s thrown for a loop when he meets Vivian. I feel like she’s this angel who comes into his life and saves him from ending up a bitter old man.”
Kit, on the other hand, may not be able to pay the rent, but she sees possibilities around every corner. “She is a fully three-dimensional character now,” Orfeh says of the role created on screen by Laura San Giacomo and expanded in the musical. “All the strong characters in the show are women! It’s very empowering.”
Orfeh and Karl laughingly agree that they could write a dissertation about musicals based on movies, given their résumés. They fell in love at first sight when Karl joined the cast of the Broadway adaptation of Saturday Night Fever, in which Orfeh memorably belted “If I Can’t Have You.” As she recalls, “I saw Andy, and it’s like the angels came down from heaven playing their harps and there was no one else in the room.” Adds Karl, “I had a talent-crush on her before we met, and after a few conversations, I said, ‘This is it.’” Six months later, in January 2001, they were married.
In addition to Saturday Night Fever, Orfeh appeared on Broadway in Footloose and Legally Blonde. Karl has been featured in musical versions of The Wedding Singer, Legally Blonde, 9 to 5, Rocky, On the Twentieth Century, and Groundhog Day, earning Tony nominations for the latter three shows. The magic formula for screen-to-stage success, they say, is good timing, great music, and giving audiences a reason to leave their living rooms to experience a beloved film in a new way. Pretty Woman checks off all those boxes.
“The special thing about making a movie into a musical is that the characters can sing how they feel,” observes Karl. “And Bryan Adams writes the best pop music I’ve ever heard. At workshops [of Pretty Woman], when I wasn’t even in the show, I was singing the music at intermission. His tunes sink into your head and never leave, and the love story of Edward and Vivian really hits you in the gut musically. It’s one of those Pygmalion fairy tales.”
As Pretty Woman heads to Broadway after a sold-out premiere engagement in Chicago, Orfeh promises, “this show is going to surpass everyone’s expectations. It’s beautiful to look at, beautiful to listen to, and there are lots of surprises.” And yes, she feels fine about watching her husband fall in love with someone else eight times a week. “At least I’m in the wings this time and not in the audience,” she quips. “And it helps that I love Samantha. She’s amazing in the show, and she and I are very close.”
As for the secret to following Richard Gere (and, before him, Bill Murray and Sylvester Stallone) in a Broadway musical, Karl has learned to keep things simple. “First of all, you have to respect the movie and the role in order to investigate how the hell they did it,” he says of his film predecessors. “Then you need to throw the movie away and concentrate on the text to figure out how you are going to tell this story and create this character. I won’t be Richard Gere, but hopefully I can give [audiences] something new to discover and enjoy. There’s so much joy in this movie — and now in the musical.”