A funny thing happened to Dorian Harewood on the way to a big singing career - he became a successful dramatic actor.

"I went to New York as a singer, having absolutely no thought about acting," Harewood said.The Ohio native found work almost immediately in musical theater, starring in the national touring company of "Jesus Christ, Superstar" and on Broadway in "Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "Over Here."

But it was another musical that turned his life around. He was co-starring with Bette Davis - whom he describes as his mentor - in "Miss Moffat." The show closed in Philadelphia before ever reaching Broadway, but Davis offered Harewood some advice along the way.

"She talked me into at least exploring dramatic acting," he said. "I've been so busy acting ever since, I haven't had time to focus on my singing career."

Taking what he calls "a huge sidetrack" as an actor, Harewood found work on Broadway, in the movies and on several television series. He's perhaps best known for his role of Simon Haley in "Roots - The Next Generation," in which he aged from 17 to 70.

Harewood can now be seen co-starring in CBS' "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" with Sharon Gless. His character, Hank Mitchell, shares an office and mutual antagonism with Rosie in the topical drama about public defenders.

"I read it (the script) and loved it. It's the best writing I've been associated with on a television series," Harewood said. "Both Sharon and (producer) Barney Rosenzweig have big hearts, a lot of integrity and a real love for this country and what it should stand for."

As one of the supporting players on "Rosie," Harewood has some extra time on his hands. He's using the time to revive his singing career.

And, ironically, his success as a dramatic actor often gets in the way of his musical ambitions.

"The way it becomes a hindrance is there's a stigma attached to actors who then pursue a singing career," Harewood said. "The stigma is very well deserved in most cases. Most actors are not good singers.

"Unfortunately for me, it's frustrating because initially I get bunched in with a bunch of actors who can just carry a tune but aren't really singers. If people will just listen, they get very excited about my singing. But sometimes people take months to even listen."

Harewood said one record-company executive had his demo tape for three months before listening to it - and when the executive finally did listen, he immediately offered Harewood a recording contract.

Television viewers got a chance to see Harewood in action in last year's made-for-TV musical "Polly." And they'll get another chance this Sunday when the updated version of "Pollyanna" returns with "Polly Coming Home" (6 p.m., Ch. 2).

Harewood again co-stars with Phylicia Rashad and Keshia Knight-Pulliam of "The Cosby Show." And he's got a show-stopping duet with Rashad.

"That's the reason I was interested in the first `Polly,' " he said. "And I've got a terrific number in this one, too."

In addition to "Polly," Harewood is working on a nightclub act and has an album coming out.

"Hey, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would become an actor, let alone have so many terrific parts," he said. "But this is something I really love, and I'm committed to putting more energy into my musical career."