Jerry Orbach

The All American Showman

of Musical Theatre

Jerome Bernard Jerry Orbach (October 20, 1935  December 28, 2004) was an American actor and singer, known on television for his starring role as Detective Lennie Briscoe in Law & Order and his recurring role as Harry McGraw in Murder, She Wrote, as well as for film roles such as Detective Gus Levy in Prince of the City, Dr. Jake Houseman in Dirty Dancing and the voice of Lumiere in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Orbach was equally noted as a musical theatre star, creating roles such as El Gallo in The Fantasticks, the longest-running musical play in history; Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises (for which he won a Tony Award); Julian Marsh in 42nd Street; and Billy Flynn in Chicago.



Jerry Orbach recording with Wanda Richert, Lee Roy Reams and Joseph Bova.


Orbach was an accomplished Broadway and Off Broadway actor. His first major role was El Gallo in the original cast of the decades-running hit The Fantasticks, and Orbach became the first to perform the show’s signature song and pop standard Try To Remember. He also starred in The Threepenny Opera, Carnival!, the musical version of the movie Lili (his Broadway debut), in a revival of Guys and Dolls (as Sky Masterson, receiving a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical), Promises, Promises (as Chuck, receiving a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical), the original productions of Chicago (as Billy Flynn, receiving a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical), 42nd Street, and a revival of The Cradle Will Rock. Orbach made occasional film and TV appearances into the 1970s.

In the 1980s, he shifted to film and TV work full-time. Prominent roles included a superb performance as tough, effective, but allegedly corrupt NYPD officer Gus Levy in Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City; he was the 1981 runner-up for the NSFC Best Supporting Actor award. He also portrayed a gangster in the Woody Allen drama Crimes and Misdemeanors. In 1985, he became a regular guest star as a private detective on Murder, She Wrote, which led to him starring in the short-lived 1987 crime drama The Law and Harry McGraw. Also in 1987, he portrayed Dr. Jake Houseman, Jennifer Grey’s father in the classic Dirty Dancing. Orbach has appeared as a celebrity panelist on both What’s My Line? and Super Password, and guest starred on the sitcom The Golden Girls.

In 1991, Orbach starred in the Academy Award-winning animated musical Beauty and the Beast, as the voice (both singing and speaking) of the candelabrum Lumiere, a role he would reprise in the film’s direct-to-video sequels. That same year, he played an NYPD police lieutenant of detectives in Steven Seagal’s Out for Justice and appeared as a defense attorney in the Law & Order episode The Wages of Love. In 1992, Orbach joined the main cast of Law & Order as world-weary, wisecracking, streetwise NYPD police detective Lennie Briscoe. He remained on the show until shortly before his death in 2004 and became one of its most popular characters (he was the third longest-lasting cast member of the series, behind S. Epatha Merkerson and Sam Waterston). TV Guide named Lennie Briscoe one of their top 50 television detectives of all-time.[13] Orbach was signed to continue in the role on Law & Order: Trial by Jury, but appeared in only the first two episodes of the series. Both episodes aired in March 2005, after his death. The fifth episode of the series, Baby Boom, and the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode, View from Up Here, were dedicated to his memory, while the ending of the Law & Order episode Mammon featured a pictorial memorial in honor of Orbach.


Promises, Promises – “She Likes Basketball” on the Tony Awards (1968)

Promises, Promises is a musical based on the 1960 film The Apartment written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. The music is by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David, and book by Neil Simon. Musical numbers for the original Broadway production were choreographed by Michael Bennett; Robert Moore directed and David Merrick produced. The story concerns marital intrigue. More on Promises Promises at TheatreGold DataBase Here



42nd Street
[Musical, Comedy, Original]

  • Starring: Jerry Orbach [Julian Marsh]
Aug 25, 1980 – Jan 08, 1989
[Musical, Comedy, Original]

  • Starring: Jerry Orbach [Billy Flynn]
Jun 03, 1975 – Aug 27, 1977
6 Rms Riv Vu
[Play, Comedy, Original]

  • Starring: Jerry Orbach [Paul Friedman]
Oct 17, 1972 – May 19, 1973
Promises, Promises
[Musical, Comedy, Original]

  • Starring: Jerry Orbach [Chuck Baxter]
Dec 01, 1968 – Jan 01, 1972
The Natural Look
[Play, Comedy, Original]

  • Performer: Jerry Orbach [Malcolm]
Mar 11, 1967 – Mar 11, 1967
Annie Get Your Gun
[Musical, Comedy, Revival]

  • Also Starring: Jerry Orbach [Charlie Davenport]
Sep 21, 1966 – Nov 26, 1966
Guys and Dolls
[Musical, Comedy, Revival]

  • Starring: Jerry Orbach [Sky Masterson]
Apr 28, 1965 – May 09, 1965
[Musical, Puppets, Original]

  • Also Starring: Jerry Orbach [Paul Berthalet, Carrot Top, Horrible Henry, Renardo, Margueritte]
Apr 13, 1961 – Jan 05, 1963
Threepenny Opera
[Musical, Drama, Revival]

  • Performer: Jerry Orbach
    • Smith – Replacement
Sep 20, 1955 – Dec 17, 196



 42nd Street ” Lullaby of Broadway ” (1980)

42nd Street is a musical with a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, lyrics by Al Dubin, and music by Harry Warren. The 1980 Broadway production, directed by an ailing Gower Champion and orchestrated by Philip J. Lang won the Tony Award for Best Musical and became a long-running hit. The show was produced in London in 1984 (winning the Olivier Award for Best Musical) and its 2001 Broadway revival won the Tony for Best Revival. Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes and the subsequent 1933 film adaptation, it focuses on the efforts of famed dictatorial Great White Way director Julian Marsh to mount a successful stage production of a musical extravaganza at the height of the Great Depression. More on 42nd Street at TheatreGold DataBase Here

Life and Honors


Orbach was married in 1958 to Marta Curro, with whom he had two sons, Anthony Nicholas and Christopher Benjamin; they divorced in 1975. Elder son Tony is a crossword puzzle constructor for The New York Times and also guest starred on the Law & Order episode “Doubles” as a reporter. Younger son Chris Orbach, who is an actor and singer, played Lennie Briscoe’s nephew Ken Briscoe on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In 1979, Jerry Orbach married Broadway dancer Elaine Cancilla, whom he met while starring in Chicago.

Jerry lived in a high-rise on 53rd Street off Eighth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen and was a fixture in that neighborhood’s restaurants and shops.His glossy publicity photo hangs in Ms. Buffy’s French Cleaners, and he was a regular at some of the Italian restaurants nearby. As of 2007, the intersection of 8th Avenue and 53rd Street was renamed in honor of Orbach. The plans met with some resistance by local planning boards, but were overcome thanks to his popularity and his love of the Big Apple.

In addition to his Tony Award and nominations, Jerry Orbach is also a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 1999. Three years later, Orbach was named a Living Landmark, along with fellow Law & Order castmate Sam Waterston, by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2002. He quipped that the honor meant that they can’t tear me down. On February 5, 2005, he was posthumously awarded a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, for his 12-year-long role on Law & Order.

On September 18, 2007, a portion of 53rd Street, near Eighth Avenue, in New York City, was renamed in Orbach’s honor as Jerry Orbach Way. Also in 2007, the Jerry Orbach Theatre was named for him in the Snapple Theater Center on 50th Street and Broadway, in New York City. The naming occurred as a tribute to him during a revival of The Fantasticks at the theatre.

More on Jerry Orbach at TheatreGold DataBase Here


Chicago 1976 Tony Awards

Chicago is a Kander and Ebb musical set in Prohibition-era Chicago. The music is by John Kander with lyrics by Fred Ebb and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice, and the concept of the celebrity criminal”. The musical is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about actual criminals and crimes she reported on. The original Broadway production opened June 3, 1975 at the 46th Street Theatre and ran for 936 performances. Bob Fosse choreographed the original production, and his style is strongly identified with the show. Chicago’s 1996 Broadway revival holds the record for the longest-running musical revival on Broadway (not counting the revue Oh! Calcutta!) and is Broadway’s sixth longest-running show. As of January 2015, it has played for more than 7,558 performances. More on Chicago at TheatreGold DataBase Here



Michael O’Haughey and Jerry Orbach in Chicago 1975

Jerry Orbach TheatreGold Memorabilia Here


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Holding the Man on DVD Here