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Interview: Orfeh of OR & MORE at Feinstein's/54 Below Premiering July 15th

"Put someone around me and I'm going to make it work."

Interview: Orfeh of OR & MORE at Feinstein's/54 Below Premiering July 15th

Orfeh has a big voice. Orfeh has a big personality, a big talent, and a big reputation for being one of the great divas of the Broadway and music industries. Orfeh also has a big fan base and a big circle of friends, all of whom love her for all of her over-the-top outrageousnesses and enviable fabulosity. Mostly, though, the people who love Orfeh love her because of the size of her heart, which is just about the biggest part of this Tiny Titan. The five-foot-five ball of fire may pack theaters on Broadway and music venues everywhere with people longing to hear that inimitable voice, but the people who fill Orfeh's home and life flock to Or because she's always devoted to her loved ones, be they family, friends, fans, any number of charities she supports, or more puppies than she would care to confess to owning. Yes, Orfeh is a diva. Yes, Orfeh is an artist. Yes, Orfeh is a star. But first and foremost, Orfeh is a Lady.

And like most ladies, this lady is filled with love - love that shows in everything she does, including her upcoming solo show OR & MORE that will premiere at Feinstein's/54 Below July 15th. Before that happens, Orfeh got on the phone with me to talk about her whirlwind romance with Andy Karl, summer camp, and what, if anything, she fears in life.

This interview has been edited for space and content.


Hello?

Hi, it's Stephen.

(Laughing) How are you?

It's good to talk to you at last.

(Laughing) At long, long last. (Laughing) What's happening?

Oh, you know, summertime, sunshine, and fresh air. How about you?

Same as you.

Did you guys camp out on this coast for the whole time or did you go out West?

No. We were in Miami for the bulk of the hell, there for a long time - I've been back for quite some time now.

I figured that at some point you'd be back here because there were little pockets of gigs popping up when film and television began shooting again.

Andy immediately hit the ground running, I'm getting there. (Laughing)

Are you not ready to give up your time with the puppies?

No, I'm just... Andy is a bonafide television star - I'm still crawling my way up. (Laughing heartily) There were also things in the pipeline before the pandemic hit that he was on his way to fittings for and everything shut down, so those immediately came back - they weren't taken off the table - they were just put on a very lengthy pause. So he had stuff lined up already,

Which means that the couples show that you guys had planned for this month turned into a diva show.

It turned into a diva show because of another project that I'm not to speak on, which took him out of town - that's really what happened. I imagine if he was here, he could pull a double duty, we've all done that a million times, but he had to leave town. I told 54 Below if they wanted to reschedule so they could have both of us but they were like, "No, we'd love to have you!" and I said, "Okaaaaay, cool!" (Laughing)


Let's talk about things in a circuitous motion. You guys have been married for a while, but you were together for a while before the actual wedding date, weren't you?

No, we actually weren't together for a very long time before the actual wedding date: we only dated for six months.

Wow. I didn't know about the whirlwind romance. How many years is it now?

20 years and counting.

He goes out of town with work a lot - do you guys separate well?

Interview: Orfeh of OR & MORE at Feinstein's/54 Below Premiering July 15th Yeah, we separate really, really well, and I always knew that because when we first got hitched, he immediately went on the tour of Saturday Night Fever, immediately after. And I spent some time with him when he was sitting down in Los Angeles and that was pretty much it. When he went and did Groundhog Day, not that long ago, and was in London for six months, I only went over for opening night; then I went over at the end of his run so that we could have a proper vacation. So we definitely separate very, very well - I'm an only child, I don't have separation anxiety of any kind, and we communicate quite often, multiple times a day, if possible. I don't know if it's because I'm an only child, but it doesn't hurt. (Laughing)

Also, you strike me as a strongly independent woman.

Yeah! I think the reason that all of my relationships last as long as they do is because I don't ride people. I'm not needy in that sense at all. It's easy to be with someone, even at just a friendship level, that's not constantly begging for your attention, you know?

It's funny you should mention that because one of the things that I've noticed is that you are fiercely loyal to your friends. It's very clear how devoted you all are to each other. How do you do that in a business where people come together for a show and become a family and then split up, how do you manage to maintain those relationships as strongly as you do?

Interview: Orfeh of OR & MORE at Feinstein's/54 Below Premiering July 15th I honestly don't know. It's been a thing with me for my whole life. I have managed to maintain very lengthy relationships with my friends along the course of my life; certainly, you can't take everybody with you and you're not going to stay friends with everybody, your whole life. But I have a couple of best friends from camp, and we're talking 6, 7, 8 years old, I'm still friends with. Then there are people in every show on Broadway that I've ever done, we still speak very frequently, hang out as often as possible. There are a few other childhood friends - I have to say, in my life, maybe two or three best friends have gotten lost along the way - otherwise, anyone I was close to, I'm still close to, and I don't have a magic formula for it. I think being loyal, certainly, but I think that I'm very relied upon. I really don't have the magic formula, it's something that, maybe karmically, I came here with, being able to amass a good relationship mojo. But listen: where I have all that magic, there's other areas of my life that I've consistently had a hard time. So I'm working that out, but the universe gives you things, the universe makes you work for other things, some things come really easily to me. I should have written that book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. (Both laughing) It's always been very simple. And I think it's also: if I like you, if I have an affinity for you, it's not bullshit. Growing up, I had a multi-billionaire heiress best friend, and one that lived in her car - I don't care. You know what I'm saying? No one got treated any differently than the other one, and I think that pretty much sums up who I am. Six of one, half dozen of the other. If you're great, you're great. I don't know how that happened but maybe it's because I don't care what you do or who you are, if you're good to me, we're good.

Ok, we're going to need a judge's ruling on "Camp" - I'm trying to get a visual of Orfeh at camp.

(Laughing) What about it?

What does that look like? The diva at camp.

I wasn't a diva at camp! It happened in high school. Anytime that I was anywhere until people realized that I could sing, I was a different person... to everybody... until they learned I could sing. And then it was like this magical box opened up and it was like, "OH MY GOD!" It was very strange. I don't remember the moment it happened in camp because it was a very athletic camp, very sports-oriented, where people were good at sports. And I was very, very good at water skiing, so I had points for that, and I could run really fast and jump very high (Laughing). So my athleticism made me kind of popular. And then they found out that I could sing, oh my god! But I remember the moment in high school. First of all, I had the strange name, that's always been a plight for me, and I had a big personality. But the day that the acting class exercise was you had to burst into song, you just had to get up in the circle and everyone's around, and you had to pick a song and sing it. I remember singing Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and from that point on, it was a different experience for me in high school - a completely different experience for me... and when you're a kid and you can sing, you don't realize everybody can't sing, you know what I'm saying? You don't realize that it's a special skill. Or when you're good at picking up languages... you don't realize that's a special skill, you just think that's what everybody does. I didn't realize it was a special skill, then life went on and everyone would have this bizarre reaction, and suddenly it would be like, "Oh my gosh, she can sing!" It was a very strange thing. You don't know until you know that it's interesting or different.

Before you opened up with "Hit Me With Your Best Shot, you had no training? You got all your training from singing around the house?

I just always sang with the radio, I sang with every song that you could possibly imagine. My mother had a very extensive forty-five stash - this woman had more records than anyone needed to have, like all the top 40 artists, everything, and the radio was on constantly. I kind of honed my skills on my own... I kind of think I invented multi-tracking, but while I was inventing multi-tracking, everybody was. I would borrow everybody's tape recorders, and I would sing one line into one tape recorder, and sing the harmony into the other tape recorder, then the other harmony into the other tape recorder, and I would play them all at once. So while I was inventing it, I'm sure someone else was actually inventing it... but in my head, I did it.

As far as I'm concerned, it was you.

Thank you - I got nothing for it. (Laughing)

You tend toward rock and roll. How did you end up being a musical theater actor?

Interview: Orfeh of OR & MORE at Feinstein's/54 Below Premiering July 15th I tend toward rock and roll and R&B, which are the same thing, actually; if you're going to go down to the root of it all, it's all the same. I didn't have any plans, nor did I have any aspirations to get into musical theater. It was a sweet, complete fluke that I guess I was available for, in the right place at the right time. When I was in my recording group, when I was in the music business, it was the nineties, and you had your troupe of dancers and you traveled, hung out, did everything together as one. I had eight dancers, four guys and four gals, and one of them went on to book the job as the choreographer for Footloose The Musical on Broadway. He'd been in the dance world his whole life, since childhood, and he was one of the most brilliant dancers. And he calls me up one day and he's like, "Hey, they have a swing role available for Footloose." I'm like, "What the hell is a swing? What are you talking about?" I had NO idea. I wasn't one of those kids that auditioned for Annie to replace Andrea McArdle, I wasn't an orphan, I didn't know that that was a world that existed. And he called me up to come in and audition. I had no idea... I had never auditioned for a musical in my life... and he said, "Bring your book." And I thought he meant to bring a book to read in the waiting room.

(I am laughing hysterically at this story.)

And I was like, "Bring my book?! What do you mean?! Is the audition gonna last that long? Do I need to book out of my other appointments for the whole day?" And he's like, "No, you idiot, bring a book to sing from." Well, I played the piano, so I had songbooks in my piano bench - so I grabbed my Mariah Carey Unplugged songbook, I knew those songs really well. And I sang from that, I danced till my feet fell off, and I was dressed completely inappropriately because (again) I'm from the music business. There's a way you have auditions, there's a way you dress, there's a way you attire yourself - that's how I went to this audition: in combat boots, overalls, tank top, hat. And he's putting us through the dance rigors - and I'm not a big sweat-er, I don't have that kind of mechanism, but I was drenched. I was dead. And I got the job. That was how I got into the musical theater world.

Once you were entrenched in the musical theater world, did you backtrack and take acting classes, or did you just learn on the job?

I had studied acting intensively for all the years at The High School of the Performing Arts/LaGuardia - that was intense acting training, it wasn't musical theater, it was straight acting, Stanislavski training with amazing teachers. So I had trained in acting more than anything I've ever trained in my life.

So at this point in your life, you're a Broadway star and a Tony nominee for acting in a musical - if somebody called you up and said, "I've got a straight play for you," would you do it?

Oh my god, it's all I ever wanted to do. Anyone who knows someone for something and they think that's all you can do - they put you in a box. I'm the big scene-stealing sidekick with the big voice. I come in, I do my thing, I leave, I'm in my dressing room, I come back out. I would love to do a straight dramatic play! It would be amazing. I'm constantly putting the feelers out. I don't think there's been anything for me in the past umpteen years, but someday ... we aspire to things (Laughing), and then we do what we gotta do.

Do we start to break you out of that box? How do we start to change people's perceptions of who you are?

I don't know that they want to - I think that it's a matter of lucking into a role and showing them what it is that you can do. I don't know that anyone's going, "Hey, I really think there's an untapped vein here for Orfeh." I think that people would be so surprised, I think that it'll be a stroke of luck and then everyone will be like, "I always knew she could do that."

So what it's going to take is a director with vision.

Absolutely, a director with vision or a plum role in a TV show, one that's not very similar to anything I've done on stage. In the music business, we called it The Voila - that's what's happened to me my whole life, and that's what will continue to happen for me.

Do you think that your status as a diva sometimes works against you as an actress?

I think it certainly does with regards to television and film, especially because I know a lot of the people that handle that universe, and it's like I'm almost imprinted on them in a certain way, and with the popularity of Legally Blonde on the internet - the huge surge it had during the pandemic, on YouTube via MTV, it became this phenomenon - and that's what they see. So that's what they think. And then maybe they saw me as Annette in Saturday Night Fever, maybe they got a chance to see me as Kit in Pretty Woman - it was pretty much the same girl, so I think that's what they think I can do.

They're almost loathe to put me in a fancy suit and make me a lawyer or a doctor... what works in your favor is also what winds up being your plight. I hate cliches but it's almost like "What your blessings are, your curses are," you know what I mean? But, like you said, someone will take a shot. No one wanted to see me for Legally Blonde. I was the last person hired. I was the last person seen, I was the last person they wanted and look what happened. Look how it turned out.

So, let's talk about your show that you've got coming up. It is called OR & MORE, which a lot of people don't know is your last name.


Interview: Orfeh of OR & MORE at Feinstein's/54 Below Premiering July 15th No! Well, it was my last name - now my last name is Karl. (Laughing) Legally! Or & More was the name of my group, the group that I had my recording business back in the nineties, so I just kind of did a play on that.

Is this a reunion show?

No, it's definitely not a reunion show (Laughing) because Or & More lends itself to so many ways - like my close friends don't call me Orfeh, they call me Or, or they just call me O. So Or & More means me and my guests. Or and my band. Or and my singers. But Or & More also happens to be the name of my one and only group. (Laughing)

It's a fortuitous name for lots of play on words situations.

Yeah, for sure.

This time around it's you and some friends who are joining you for the show.

I do have some friends joining me for the show. I wish they were more friends joining me for the show, and there would have been but there were so many COVID protocols in place at the time that I had lined up a ton of guests, there were so many restrictions that I didn't want anyone to get their feelings hurt. So the first three people I asked, thankfully, were the first three people that said yes... then I started to get the feeling I better not ask anybody else because I would have to rescind the offer and that would just destroy me. We love having guests but it was really about the protocols that were in place at the time - at one point I wouldn't have been able to have my guests and my band and my singers. It would have been Steven on piano, me on the mic, and a guest (Laughing)... it would have been Or & More unplugged. I'm thrilled that, as the days have gone on and the weeks have gone on, it's loosened up and we'll able to have everyone I need to have, my core band and my guests, so that was just a stroke of timing luck.

Do you ever see yourself as an unplugged kind of performer or do you prefer the full band experience?

I love the richness of the full band. I love the camaraderie. I love that we play off of each other so well, we've all been together for so long... this core group has been together since we did the Lincoln Center show, I think it was 2016 if I'm not mistaken, we've been together a long time, we travel together, we play off of each other. That being said, Steven and I have an unplugged version of the show for Andy and me, we've done a version of it with Steven and Nikki and Tim (our singers) and me and Andy; so there are multiple versions of the show... but the most fun for everybody is when the whole band is together and all the singers are there and it's just jamming because that's the world I come from.

This voice of yours, this miraculous instrument that you've been given...

Oh, boy, thank you for that... (Laughing)

Well, you have to know. I mean, you can't be a diva and not know how people respect what you do with your voice. Can you?

Yeah, sure you can. Because for everyone who's like, "I've never heard a voice like yours," I've also, a billion times, heard what an acquired taste my instrument is." (Laughing) It keeps you humble.

I sort of figure the people that think your singing is an acquired taste, had the COVID, and their taste buds are gone.

Interview: Orfeh of OR & MORE at Feinstein's/54 Below Premiering July 15th (Laughing) They must have long before we knew it existed. When you're 10 and you sound like this and it becomes kind of like, "Oh my god, what is this instrument?" As you grow into it, it's different. And I know what I sound like, I know what I can do, but I've been chastised. It's always been that: it's always been a variation of this voice. So at times, it was a little suspect for people ... and then you wind up on Broadway, and people forget that you were actually a radio pop star and your voice was coming out of a little thing. You're not just like Ethel Merman, you're a natural, radio-friendly voice; people don't know because there was no social media at that point - if you didn't see it, it must not have happened. My fan base is very young, so they didn't hear my songs on the radio 70 times a week. The videos didn't get their time on YouTube - now if you find it, you're just lucky somebody bothered to put it up somewhere.

Speaking of your time on the radio, it's been a long time since you've had a solo album out. Is there a chance that you have one coming down the pike?

I don't know. It's so difficult. I think that's why Andy and I made the Live CD and I think that's why I put out the Christmas single, and we put out the trio single back in March. I always want to put music out into the universe, but I'm not interested in creating art so that... Listen, I'm grateful to however many people get it or download it or hear it or love it, but I'm making music for the masses, I'm not making it as an art project. I'm making it so that everyone can enjoy it. And until you're in a position where people are aware that that's happening - and these days if you're not a Tik Tok sensation, you're not going to sell a million copies, you're not going to get a billion streams on Spotify. It's a very different world than when I was in the music business and you went to the store, you went to the shows, you saw the concerts and you went, "Hey, I love this, I'm going to go and buy this CD." That universe ended, that doesn't exist anymore.

What are your thoughts, on the evolution of the business and the art form in today's society?

Obviously, there is a plus to it that you can reach 35 million followers on Instagram - it boggles your mind - but that's good because those 35 million people have access to this. But I also feel very, very, very lucky that I came up in a time where every record I sold meant that someone had to actually go and buy that longbox from Tower or Virgin... I feel very lucky that I got to straddle both worlds because I was so young then, and I'm not an old woman now, but I got to see both universes. It's hard because you can't prove that you had the success, but you had it, it exists, a Billboard Top 40 single. Everything is very new and everything is in the moment. And again, it is the blessing and the curse. It is what it is. I miss the reality of it. I miss the music business, as far as artists were concerned, and how you could actually become a household name through your sweat and toil and touring - and it was a very hard business, let's not kid ourselves. I'm not saying it's easier now, but you can become a hit mega-star overnight if enough people stream your single on the streaming services. It's different. So I don't know what's better. I imagine it's better for the people it's better for.

Would you go out on tour again?

If I could fill the spaces, yes. I don't want to go out on tour to play for five people.

Every time you play 54 Below it's packed.

Interview: Orfeh of OR & MORE at Feinstein's/54 Below Premiering July 15th I'm very, very, very, very grateful that I always sell it out. We always sell it out - it's the combination of Andy and myself performing together, so we'll see what happens on the 15th (Laughing), but I hear the tickets are selling very well. And I know that every day they release more tickets, every day they allow more people to buy tickets. It was so troubling in the beginning because people were reaching out to me saying, "I can't get a ticket. They won't sell me a ticket because of precautions." I don't run the rules of the venue, so it was very difficult for me. But thankfully, so much has changed and so much continues to change so rapidly that people that weren't able to get tickets now have tickets. I knew there was something there when we sold out Lincoln Center in a very short amount of time - and there wasn't an empty seat in the house, and I promise you that it wasn't papered. I knew there was something there. Have I tried to ask my booking agent to get the 2,500 seat houses or more than that? No. There will come a time where the demand will be there, and we'll be able to do it or not.

But I also come from a place where Or & More was an opening act for some of the hottest acts of the time. I was treated to being able to perform a small show with 6,500 people. Back in the day, we were opening up for the huge number one record group in the dance and R&B genre, you'd look up and there were 25,000 people screaming for you, there were 30,000 people screaming for you and you're going, "Oh, this is freaking cool." Everyone would always say to me, when I got on Broadway, "Why aren't you nervous?" How do you say this without sounding like a dick? It's like 2200 seats. (Laughing) Not 6,500 seats.

Well, that's your frame of reference. In my experience, when you're speaking from your reality, people don't have the right to think of you as a dick - it just happens to be your frame of reference.

I know it, and it was the reality of it. I imagine anyone who had that world and then came to Broadway had the exact same experience. I never had stage fright, that's just something I'm not plagued with, thankfully. But again the Minskoff, the Winter Garden, the Palace - these are ginormous theaters on Broadway. Imagine being on tour in the universe and you're playing a stadium with your big headliner, having just gone off a streak of selling 7 million records, and that actually meant 7 million people went and bought your record. Then they bought a ticket to the show. You're opening up for that. I was introduced to that world very quickly, so once I got to Broadway, I was like, "Well, this is awesome." If I had stage fright - it's harder to play for a small audience, so much harder.

You don't have stage fright. What are you afraid of?

Oh, I'm not telling.

(Both laughing, Orfeh is definitely tickled)

I thought I'd get you on that one.

No, I'm not telling you! (Laughing good-naturedly) I'll never teeeellllll! (Laughing loudly) Hell, no! HELL, no! (Both laughing hard)

How's the canine?

Oh, they're delicious. They keep me alive.

How many do you have now?

A few. (Biggest laugh of the day)

Now you're my kind of gal. If I could have a dog, I would have at least three, but my landlord said no. I'm thinking of telling him I need an emotional support animal.

I think, whatever it takes: good animal parents should have animals. They are a source of all good things in life.

Tell me, what was it about Andy that made you so sure that you should marry him after only six months?

I don't know. Honest to god, until the moment I laid eyes on that man, I thought love at first sight was a crock of shit... just something that they said in the movies and romcoms and fairytales and stuff. I swear, I looked at him and I was like, "That's the guy I'm going to marry." And we could get deeply spiritual, we go all past life, karma, and all of that esoteric stuff that either makes people really happy or makes them go, "Oh, please shut up," but I'm telling you, I looked at him and I said, "That's the guy I'm going to marry." It was very funny. No one knew, no one knew we were getting together, no one knew that we were even seeing each other. And the Saturday Night Fever cast was a very close-knit cast, and we never said a word. Then they gave us a boat cruise around Manhattan for our five hundredth show, and that's when the secret was revealed, and people just went off the rails and they were like, "Yeah, sure this will last," and to this day, they are all like, "Oh man, we could not have been more wrong about this. Look at the two of you still together." And I wouldn't have bet on us either.

One of the great things is the surprises of life

I would have laughed. I would have snickered. I would have done all of that, but who the hell knows? Really about anything.

There are some married couples that don't work well together. What's it like getting to go out there and make art with your spouse?

I love it. I can't get enough. It's never not a great situation or experience. I am one of those people - and I don't say a lot of really great things about myself - but I could have chemistry with a green screen. I'm one of those people who, you put someone in front of me, you would think we are the closest of friends, the bestest of buddies, and are hanging out and dining all day every day together. It's a facet of something that I came to this earth with: I have good chemistry with everybody. So I certainly am going to have good chemistry with the man that I love and I'm married to, and I am just having a ball on stage. There's nothing I love doing more than singing and entertaining an audience. But I'm just one of those people - put someone around me and I'm going to make it work.

Orfeh, I have had the greatest time talking to you today. I can't wait to see the show at 54 Below

I hope I didn't babble.

Not at all, you were very eloquent and fabulous.

I could say anything to you.

Orfeh's show OR & MORE play Feinstein's/54 Below July 15, 16, and 17 at 7 pm. For information and tickets visit the 54 Below website HERE.

Follow Orfeh on Instagram HERE and Twitter HERE. Orfeh has a website HERE.


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