Jerry Orbach

Today's wide release of 'Beastly,' a teenage riff on 'Beauty and the Beast,' casts our minds back to Disney's great animated musical version in 1991, which featured a charming performance by an actor who would soon become much better known as a TV detective on 'Law and Order.'

Jerry Orbach played Lumière in 'Beauty and the Beast,' the singing, madly flirtatious French candlestick holder, a role that flowed naturally from his extensive experience in musical stage productions. (He was an original cast member of 'The Fantasticks' and starred in 'Guys and Dolls' and 'Chicago,' among others.) This writer saw him in a revival of '42nd Street' on Broadway in 1982, which rocked my world because I'd seen him the previous year as a corrupt cop in the gritty 'Prince of the City.' How could a dirty cop also be a good singer and dancer?

Personal experience always shapes our perceptions, of course, so maybe your lasting image of Orbach is from his role in 'Dirty Dancing' as the stern Dr. Houseman (pictured above), the father of dance- and boy-crazed heroine Baby (Jennifer Grey). With a scowl on his face and steam blowing out of his ears, he disapproves initially of any kind of relationship between playboy Johnny (Patrick Swayze) and his darling daughter, but finally caves in at the end because he loves his little girl.
Prince of the City Movie Poster
Prince of the City
In Theaters on 1981

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categories Features, Cinematical