Orfeh appears in tonight's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC, 9 PM ET). "I've auditioned for 'Law & Order' a few times, and have been in [for auditions] for 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,' but this was the first time [I tried out] for 'Criminal Intent.' I was lucky enough to book it." Though "[production] moves very fast," she thoroughly enjoyed the experience. "Everyone was so nice and professional. They provided a nurturing atmosphere."
She plays a prison guard's widow in the episode, which repeats Tuesday, Feb. 15 (8 PM ET). Guest star Chris Noth reprises his "Law & Order" role as Mike Logan (the detective he played from 1990-95). It was announced this past week that, next season, Noth would star in half the "Criminal Intent" shows, alternating with Vincent d'Onofrio.
The native New Yorker, whose only other episodic-TV appearance was in "Sex and the City" ("the one where Berger breaks up with Carrie by Post-it"), is "extremely looking forward" to doing more television, and hopes to get a shot at the new spin-off, "Law & Order: Trial by Jury," the first two episodes of which air March 3 and 4 (NBC, 10 PM ET) and feature the final appearances of the late Jerry Orbach.
"I used to do a lot of on-camera commercials, and I got lucky with those, too. I always got commercials with film directors [at the helm]." Now, she says, "Voice-overs keep a roof over my head. I've done tons of voice-overs." In addition, the lucky lady may be heard on "two of the biggest video games on the planet!" She's the voice of three characters in "Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne," and plays dominatrix Millie Perkins in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."
Her private life on the planet is shared with actor Andy Karl, whom Orfeh met while both were playing in Saturday Night Fever. "We instantly connected, got married five months later and celebrated our fourth anniversary in January. We sometimes take jobs just so we can be onstage together." Karl, notes Orfeh, "is about to open [March 1 at Dodger Stages] in Altar Boyz. He plays Luke. Bring tissues. You're going to be laughing so hard."
Named Orfeh by her mother, "after Black Orfeus, the opera," she doesn't use her surname. It doesn't exist anymore. In '96, I had it removed permanently. When I was signed to EMI Records and joined AFTRA, it was just Orfeh — and it stuck. In the music world, it's almost normal to have one name."
What led Orfeh to show business? "I can't do anything else," she claims, with a laugh. I got a record deal right out of high school. I wanted to be a rock star since I was six. I had a top-40 single on the pop charts, a Number One dance hit, a big club hit, and my album went gold. Then, things went terribly, terribly awry at the record company, and when you're 17-18, you can't control any of that. I was a teenager fending for myself in a very adult world. It would make a great VH-1 'Behind the Music.'"
But she survived. "On the heels of that, I went into the Broadway thing," making her debut in Footloose. Next came The Gershwins’ Fascinating Rhythm. "Again, I got lucky. Whenever [the powers that be] wanted to lean toward funky, I'd get the job. The alumni from that show are all top people: Patrick Wilson, Sara Ramirez — who's going to be huge after Spamalot [opens].
"Then I got Love, Janis [the Off-Broadway hit about Janis Joplin], which was a perfect fit for me. It was the best gig of my life; my favorite thing I ever got to do. I played the last six months of the run." Following that came Saturday Night Fever, in which she played Annette and sang "my signature song," 'If I Can't Have You.' [The musical] ran almost two years, including previews — a lot longer than anyone ever expected."
Two of the benefits in which Orfeh has appeared ("I have a problem saying no") are the Actors Fund one-night Broadway productions of Dreamgirls (2001) and Hair (2004). On March 7, she makes her cabaret debut at Feinstein's at the Regency. "It's one night only, part of their 'Broadway's Brightest Stars' series.
"Someone asked me, and I said, 'Why not? Let's have some fun!'" Orfeh is putting together material "with Zane Mark, a musician and musical director, who happens to be married to my good friend, Adriane Lenox, who was in Fascinating Rhythm."
Possibly waiting in the wings is a new musical, directed and choreographed by Debbie Allen. "We did a five-week workshop in July and August . It was called Beehive then; now, it's Girl Group Time Travelers. If it ever goes to Broadway, I'd like to think they'll keep me." Growing up, Orfeh, an only child, was influenced "by Lucille Ball, Bette Davis and Prince. I could probably reenact every episode of 'I Love Lucy.' She was a genius! I could watch 'All About Eve' morning and night, and never get tired of it. I could quote you lines. And I scream like a teenager when Prince comes on TV."
I ask if she's ever seen the Bette Davis sequence from "Thank Your Lucky Stars" (an all-star 1943 movie), the best part of which has Davis singing the Arthur Schwartz Frank Loesser song, "They're Either Too Young or Too Old." Says Orfeh, "No, and I thought I was cool because I saw 'Three on a Match' [a 1932 Davis drama]." But she promises to find time in her busy schedule to rent the tape.
Michael Buckley also writes for TheaterMania.com, and is the author of the book "Between Takes (Interviews with Hollywood Legends)," to be published later this year.