Like Broadway's own Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Andy Karl and his wife Orfeh are the costars-turned-real-life-couple who are the envy of the Great White Way. Their 15-year relationship is an awards-season reminder that romance can last (and stay fun!) long after the curtain falls.
Karl joined the company of Saturday Night Fever in 2000 as a replacement for Tony Manero's friend Joey. Orfeh was starring in the show as the neighborhood girl Annette. Six months later they were married. Both blessed with that rare combination of comedic talent and sex appeal, Orfeh and Karl have only gotten to perform together on Broadway one other time when they starred opposite each other in the musical version of Legally Blonde, but whether it's belting out "If I Can't Have You" in Saturday Night Fever, bounding up the monument steps in Rocky, or bending and snapping in Legally Blonde, Orfeh and Karl are performers who are just as invaluable individually as they are together.
Currently, Karl is enjoying the rave reviews and Tony nomination he's earned for playing the mustached meathead Bruce Granit, opposite Kristin Chenoweth, in the first full-scale Broadway revival of Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Cy Coleman's 1978 showbiz farce On the Twentieth Century, but he is dying to get back onstage with Orfeh. Casting directors haven't been cooperating, so the couple is working on a cabaret show together which they hope to debut this summer. For the latest installment of "A Fine Showmance," Orfeh and Karl talk about falling in love at first sight, working the red carpet and why their relationship has outlived many a Broadway showmance.
First off, Andy, congratulations on the great reviews [and the Tony nomination] for On the Twentieth Century!
Andy Karl: I have never seen reviews like this for a show I've been in. They're usually mixed, but this show has the perfect cast and is really well directed and put together. We're all enjoying the show's success. Orfeh, is he getting a big head?
Orfeh: Oh, God. I wish. You'd think after 14 years a little of my lack of humbleness would rub off on him.
AK: I'm the humble one.
O: You have to beat him into knowing something's fabulous.
AK: That's why I have her.
I think of you guys as the Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn of Broadway. If you ever broke up no one would ever believe in showmances again!
O: We should hope to be together that long! That would be wonderful.
What's your secret? It's obviously not easy.
AK: It's easier than you might think.
O: I think the reason it works for Andy and I is that we genuinely like each other — above and beyond being in love. We're very, very different people, but we have common goals in every aspect of life. The things that bother Andy will never bother me, so I can — for lack of a better word — cheerlead him through those times, and it's the same with me. What bothers me are things he doesn't even understand. He thinks they're just the most ridiculous things in the world and vice versa. If you're both down about the same things at any given point in time, it's hard to have somebody who's able to see clearly through that situation. We're very lucky that we're as different as we are, but at the same time we have the same goals, we have the same love, we have the same appreciation for things. I think that ultimately is the reason it's worked as long as it has.
AK: She's my champion. I'm the guy that sits back and thinks about things, but she's the go-getter. The two of us work off each other in that way. I've learned so much from her and am still learning. It's like I have a unique perspective and so does she. [For example] I had written an article for someone and I was like, "It's funny. I'm just going to throw it out there," but she was on the phone saying, "It's the best article in the world." She was championing my work and I was being humble about it at a time when I shouldn't have been.
She's like the best agent ever!
O: I'm the agent, the manager, the publicist. I'm an in-house office.
AK: Yeah, but at the same time, when she's auditioning for something I help her out, like, "You should try this or try that," or "They'll really go for this." With the two of us, we see things the other person doesn't see.
Is it hard to be critical of each other?
O: Oh, he has no qualms about that. It's taken him a decade plus, but he's so used to the things I do that if I miss a step he actually notices. He'll be like, "What time are you getting your blow dry?" and I'm like, "What do you mean? My hair looks fine!" Stuff like that comes with a familiarity that doesn't breed contempt; it actually breeds a knowledge about the other person. Like Andy said, you have a different set of eyes on you, so you're like, "Oh yeah. I forgot. Sorry!"
I know you met when you were both performing in the 1999 Broadway production of Saturday Night Fever, but who actually made the first move?
AK: There's a debate about this to this day.
O: I insist it happened one way, and he insists it happened another way. I think I'm right because I always am.
AK: We were both very interested in each other, but I played it way cool. So cool that she didn't even notice. I had just come into the show and she was this phenomenon that I'd never seen before. I can't compare my wife to anyone else, because she's so unique. I didn't think I had a chance, but I tried to strike up conversations. I think when it came down to it we were both obviously looking for the same thing. You can't stop that when it's in the air, so I feel like it happened mutually.
O: It happened mutually, but I was a little bit more forthcoming with conversation. The guy played it so cool that I thought I must have smudged makeup on my face. He could not have been less interested.
AK: That was not true, obviously. Being in the theatre for so long, I've learned to not have preconceived notions. I'm not going to sit there and think that she's trying to put the moves on me. I was just going to try to be a cool person and see how it worked out.
O: He was cool like an iceberg that I was running head on into.
AK: Here's the other side of that: We dated for maybe five months before we got engaged, and then a month later we got married.
Andy, it sounds like once you heated up, you were full steam ahead.
O: Whatever he did, it worked.
AK: As soon as we got together, I was like let's just do everything. It's been that way for 14 years.
O: It sounds crazy.
Were you worried about having a showmance before you started dating?
AK: It was a showmance, but it wasn't like a true showmance where we were falling in love as the characters we were playing. We were just two people who wanted to be together outside of this business. We just got along so well, so quickly.
O: That's true. It wasn't that thing that happens where the method actor falls in love with their costar. Annette didn't fall in love with Joey. We were very much aware of ourselves as the people we were. It was a total fluke, because I've been in many shows and Andy's been in many shows and I've rarely had any showmances last past the expiration date. Even when we got engaged, everybody was looking at us side-eyed like, "This won't last," and rightfully so. We kept it close to the vest, because of exactly that perception. I don't blame anyone. This happens on movie sets and TV shows: You get very close to somebody. You're with them basically 24 hours a day, especially on Broadway. It's a natural breeding ground, but — and this sounds so esoteric and cheesy — I think we are truly each other's soulmates. I think he and I were meant to be together. However it had to happen, wherever it had to happen, it happened. I think if we ran into each other on the 6 train it would have happened. It was like, "There you are. What took you so long?"
Even though you had been in showmances before, you knew this was different?
O: I knew instantly. I was like, "Love at first sight really exists? I thought that was a total cheesehead concept," but the minute I laid eyes on him, everything else faded from view. I haven't made that up over the years. I said to a couple of my girlfriends in the show: "Don't let me screw this up. I have to be with this guy."
Andy, did you feel that love at first sight, too?
AK: Before I was in Saturday Night Fever, I used to stare at her photos on [the show's] marquee. I thought she was so gorgeous. I had also seen her in Footloose when she was on for Rusty, before I joined Saturday Night Fever, and I was like, "Oh my God. Who is this girl?" I was blown away.
I've heard you two have a really funny engagement story involving takeout food. Can you explain?
O: One night after the show we ordered from this Chinese-Mexican fusion place we would always order from near his apartment. It was really good! When we were doing Saturday Night Fever we could eat anything we wanted. You couldn't keep a pound on. It was great. When the food came, he got all the boxes out in the kitchen and when he brought it back out I opened the box to dump it out on my plate and inside was a little red jewelry box. I got so freaked out that [there was something in the food] I took the box and I chucked it at his head. I literally didn't know what it was. I didn't put it together. He had made no overtures or dropped any hints.
AK: Sometimes it works to play it cool.
O: I was like, "What is this?!" but he grabbed the box, got on his knee and proposed. I was beside myself, but that's really how it happened.
That's an amazing story. Where did you get married?
O: We eloped in South Beach. My best friends were witnesses, ringbearers, singers and videographers.
Did you get married while Saturday Night Fever was still running?
O: No. The show had closed maybe a couple of weeks earlier. Andy was set to go on the Saturday Night Fever tour, so we got married right before he left.
It's like when couples get married before leaving for the Army.
AK: Yeah, like, "I'll be back honey."
O: Absence definitely made the heart grow fonder in that case.
Still, it must be hard when one of you is out on tour and the other is home.
AK: It's very strange. That's why I don't like to do it anymore. It sucks. It's like you miss your best friend. When you're out of town in a cool place like Chicago, you can wander around all day and go see the sights, but it's no good if you're not sharing it with somebody. They say never say never, but I don't think I would go out on the road again, unless we're going together.
Speaking of which, when are you guys going to be in a show together again?
O: When people figure out that that's the way it should happen! It worked so well before and it will again. We like it and we have unbelievably good chemistry for a married couple. I just don't know how that gets past the industry.
AK: We started creating our own show, so that we can at least do concerts together.
O: We had the best time in Legally Blonde. We had the best time in Saturday Night Fever, and we did a couple of out of town things together. Those were some of our favorite memories.
When are you planning on doing the concerts?
O: We're in prep and rehearsals, but we have to wait for Andy to finish up the show. He only has his Mondays off right now.
AK: We want to make sure we put it all together correctly, but we're thinking August.
What kind of songs are you going to sing?
O: We're going to do some duets that we may or may not have done together and songs that mean something to us like, "If I Can't Have You" as a solo turn for me and "Fight From the Heart" for Andy, but I don't want to give too much away, because then nobody will come see it. We'll just do some fun duets — some stuff we love or would have loved to have gotten to do together. We'll start in New York and if people like it enough, maybe they'll invite us places.
Do you notice a difference in your lives when you are playing different characters?
O: My husband — God bless him — is a method actor. I am not. I am very good about leaving the character at work and coming home as myself, but my dear, darling, sweet husband is a method actor, so there was definitely a gloomy cloud over the home during Rocky. Andy's a really funny guy. He's funny at home. He's funny everywhere, and it was the one time he wasn't funny. He didn't have that lightness about him. He was really tired. He was getting hit in the head 50 times a day. I won't say he was unpleasant to be around, but that was the most different he's ever been in our marriage, because Rocky was coming home. Andy Karl was not coming home at that point.
AK: I consumed myself. I felt like Rocky was the one I should do that for. I don't recommend it.
AK: I'm not Bruce Granit when I come home — except for the mustache.
O: But Andy is more of a Bruce Granit-type of human being. He's funny and silly. He's just a hilarious guy, so it's a lot more fun. It was fun when he was Tommy DeVito [in Jersey Boys]. He just really went deep with Rocky and I think that's why people connected to it. It certainly worked for him professionally.
AK: It varies job to job. It depends on the workload. Orfeh was playing Janis Joplin for awhile and she had a lot to sing, but she would come home and want to talk. I'm like, "Dude you need to not talk. You have to sing 50 rock songs like Janis Joplin at night."
O: Then you get lucky now and again like when we did Me & Mrs. Jones. You get to sing [Kenny] Gamble and [Leon] Huff all day and there's nothing to be upset about when you come home. Andy was definitely the most serious I've ever known him to be with Rocky, but like I said, that's probably why audiences connected to it, because he was really living it.
Were you a little relieved when Rocky was done though?
AK: I think we both were.
O: I think everybody on the East Side of New York City was.
AK: I was sad that it closed. I spent so much time working on that thing, but my body was twisted and my head kept getting hit. It took awhile for my fingers, fists, wrists, ankles and knees to recover from that.
O: The show was gone too soon. I wish it was still running, but it was nice to have Andy back.
AK: That's the other part of being married in showbiz. We're constantly looking for the next thing, and it might be very different or it might come at a time when you're not expecting it. You have to adjust constantly, but the two of us know that side of the business enough to not let it affect our relationship.
But is it hard when one of you is doing really well in the business and the other one is not working as much?
O: It's easy for me. Actors' lives are very feast and famine. We've both been lucky enough to work so often that when I've gotten to sit back and watch him in the past couple of years, I take so much pleasure in it. I don't know that everybody's as non-competitive with their spouse or significant other as I am, but when he was on the Tony [Awards] red carpet last year, I was definitely happier for him than when I was on the red carpet for my nomination — and I promise you I could not have been happier when I was nominated [for Legally Blonde].
AK: I felt the same way when I was there with her for her nomination. I was beaming. There's also no pressure on you. When you're nominated there's a certain feeling of: "If I win I have to give a speech, or if I don't win I have to look happy for everybody." When you're not in the driver's seat you can just appreciate how great it is for your spouse to be celebrated — and look really hot.
You both always look really good on the red carpet! Do you help each other get ready?
AK: For the opening night [of On the Twentieth Century] Orfeh was lent five dresses. We always pick the right one, but since I'm in the husband position I can't say, "God, that looks horrible on you." I'll say, "I prefer that one over this one." I'll also [make suggestions like]: "What about that necklace and that bracelet?" I know that sounds kind of weird, but I know what she likes. I know what she looks good in — and vice versa. She is way more fashionable than I am — I tend to dress like a five-year-old sometimes — but it's good to have that unique perspective and we can help each other out.
Do you enjoy walking the red carpet together?
O: There's nothing better. Who are we kidding?
AK: We have our own sides we stand on.
O: We know the poses. For every five good pictures there are 15 that make you want to run away to another country, but we've done it enough that we don't have much of an excuse to look terrible. We've got to get it right. The kids want us to look good and we try to give it to them.