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Meet the Tony Nominees: Stephanie J. Block of ‘The Cher Show’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |


Stephanie J. Block shares why playing Cher has transformed her

Stephanie J. Block stars as one of three Chers in The Cher Show. The musical reveals Cher’s inspiring story of unstoppable persistence and courage, and Block is nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for portraying Star, the eldest Cher. Covering six decades of the iconic performer’s career, The Cher Show features 35 hit songs and breathtaking costumes by Bob Mackie, who is also nominated for a Tony for Best Costume Design of a Musical. The new musical, with a book by Rick Elice and direction by Jason Moore, is currently playing on at the Neil Simon Theatre. In addition to Block, the cast includes Teal Wicks, Micaela Diamond, Jarrod Spector, Michael Berresse, Michael Campayno, Matthew Hydzik and Emily Skinner. Now a three-time Tony nominated actress, Block has also appeared on Broadway in Falsettos, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Anything Goes, 9 to 5: The Musical, The Pirate Queen, Wicked and The Boy From Oz. On television, she has been seen in Rise, Madame Secretary, Orange is the New Black and Homeland

Tony nominee Stephanie J. Block as Star in 'The Cher Show' (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Tony nominee Stephanie J. Block as Star in 'The Cher Show' (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Has playing Cher changed you? 
Stephanie J. Block
: It has changed me a lot. I feel like someone has allowed me to be a little more outspoken, a little more present. Sometimes in certain business situations, I hold my tongue and think I’m not supposed to say anything. I’m supposed to be an actor, which is only a vessel of the material. Once I agreed to play Cher, I thought, “Cher always sits at the table. Regardless of her title, she speaks as a producer, director, actor and visionary. And I’m going to do the same.” I always tried to be extremely respectful, but I have said to our writer, Rick Elice: “What would happen if...” I would speak to our director, Jason Moore, saying “This doesn’t feel right to me. As a wife, mother and a woman of a certain age in this business, that just feels false. I think we need to…” They all listened and allowed me to voice my opinion.

Also, playing Cher allowed me to embrace my own physical person. I thought, “How am I going to play this exquisite creature who is tall and lithe and doesn’t have one inch of body fat?” When I got cast in the role, I had a two-year-old little girl and was trying to figure out what my body was doing. I had to strut around in Bob Mackie costumes and embrace this person. Playing Cher has allowed me to do that. It is really freeing once you’re not asking for apologies anymore. I had to stop second-guessing what other people might be thinking, and walk with confidence. Because how can we possibly know what that person in the second row is thinking of us? If we get in our heads like that, it is really toxic. It’s not fair to the person in the second row, and it’s not fair to yourself. So I had to release all that.

What qualities does Cher have that you adore? 
SJB
: Cher has always been so authentic to herself and to her strength. Even in the 1950s when she was 16, she was fearless. She said, “I’m going after my dream.” And she did not start from any sort of place of privilege by any means. Cher calls herself a bumper car. Because whenever she hits a wall, she doesn’t give up. She backs up and tries a different route. When people say “Cher has constantly reinvented herself,” she actually says, “No, it’s not a reinvention. It’s just me never giving up.” She is a tireless woman who is constantly reaching for something better and different. We have a line at the end of our show that says, “You win some and you learn some.” She’s like this glorious phoenix that keeps rising up.

Last year I saw Cher’s concert. She does this incredible monologue and says, “So, what is your granny doing tonight?” Any time you think you have a certain perspective of what a woman should be at any age, Cher has defied it. Cher is always who she wants to be, when she wants to be it, how she wants to be it. And people really take note of that. We have to strip ourselves of (how) the public defines women. We should be who we want to be, when we want to be it and how we want to be it. And that is who Cher is.

What was your earliest memory discovering Cher? 
SJB
: I remember my mom and dad watching The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. I was too young to really understand their jokes. I just remember this pillar of a woman wearing glorious shiny costumes, and then this smaller-framed man who was more of a jokester than anything else. I really came to understand Cher when she was made into a Barbie. Here was this olive-skinned, long, dark-haired doll that looked more like me than any other doll I had ever seen. That was so beautiful to me. It gave me an opening to think there are different looks, types, and shapes that can be embraced as the American beauty. That was pretty eye-opening. 

From the age of 15 until I was in my twenties, I worked on and off at Disneyland for many years. I auditioned for the role of Pocahontas, and (they) had me try a wig and costume and be approved by management. I put on the wig and all of them said, “Oh, we’re so sorry, you look more like Cher than Pocahontas.” I remember being 19 or 20 at the time. I thought, “Oh no, I’m not going to play Pocahontas at Disneyland. They think I look like Cher.” And now, looking back 20-some years later, I guess that was insight into my future. Until that point it was never even on my radar to play or look like Cher. 

Can you talk about your Broadway debut? 
SJB
: Before it went to Broadway, I was in the original company of Wicked. I was standing by for Idina Menzel as Elphaba. We were all getting ready to go out of town to San Francisco before the show was going to come to Broadway. My agent said, “Would you like to go on this audition to play Liza Minnelli?” And I said, “Sure,” knowing that I had a great job with the original company of Wicked. I was new to New York and I wanted to sing and act for anybody I could get in front of. That was on a Monday. That Tuesday, during my lunch break from Wicked, I did a dance call and then they said, “We would like to have you come back and do a work session with Hugh Jackman next Monday.” I said, “I can’t, I’m getting on a plane to San Francisco on Monday.” And the production team for The Boy from Oz said, “We’ll change your plane ticket and we’ll get you out there later that day. But we’d love for you to spend a couple of hours with Hugh.” So we did that. It was extraordinary, and Hugh is one of the most generous, loving humans, let alone actors, that you could ever meet. And a half hour later they called me and said, “We’d like you to play Liza Minnelli.” And I was over the moon. I called my parents. I called my voice teacher. Then I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” So my Broadway debut was opposite Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz

And then how full circle that you ultimately did play Elphaba on Broadway. 
SJB
: I did. I like to say I got two Ozes for the price of one. 
***
For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in May 2019.

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