Interview with The Cher Show star Stephanie J. Block
At The 73rd Annual Tony Awards, Broadway star Stephanie J. Block finally took a Tony Award home! Having earned her first Tony nomination back in 2013 for The Mystery of Edwin Drood and arguably having been robbed in 2017, following her second nomination for her show-stealing performance as Trina in Falsettos, it was a case of third time's a charm. And she got to experience her iconic moment thanks to her portrayal of... well... an icon. It took the creative team of The Cher Show quite a few attempts, before they managed to pursuade Stephanie to agree to be the production's leading lady and it would ultimately be well worth her while, becoming the crowning jewel of her already illustrious Broadway career. Stepahnie steadily built a fan base in the Broadway community after bursting onto the scene as Liza Minnelli (opposite Hugh Jackman in his Broadway debut) in The Boy from Oz back in 2003. Since then, she has enjoyed leading roles in the likes of The Pirate Queen, Wicked, 9 to 5, and Anything Goes on the Great White Way, and has even found time to appear off-Broadway for Second Stage Theater in 2011's By the Way, Meet Vera Stark and 2013's Little Miss Sunshine.
Although primarily known as a Broadway star, over the years, Stephanie has appeared in such high-profile television series as Showtime's "Homeland," Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black," and CBS' "Madam Secretary." Most recently, she also starred as Patricia Saunders on NBC's musical drama series "Rise," but nothing can compare to working with the "goddess" Cher (in her own words) and crafting her version of the Oscar, Grammy and Emmy Award-winning legend. As reported, the Broadway premiere of The Cher Show is set to play its final performance at the Neil Simon Theatre on August 18, 2019, so whilst the beat goes on, please don't miss out on this Tony Award-winning performance in this feel-good, crowd-pleasing glitterfest... or you'll certainly be wishing you could turn back time!
We previously caught up with Stephanie for a little session of what she likes to call "Cherapy"...
Congratulations on all your Awards Season success, Stephanie! If you think back, what was your initial reaction when they asked you if you’d be interested in playing a version of Cher on Broadway?
I said “No.” And when they offered me the part a second time, I said “Nooooo.” And finally it took a dinner with Jason Moore, our director, which allowed me to see his vision and see where he was going with the storytelling that would let me breathe a little more. There’s many reasons why I felt that I wasn’t the right fit to play Cher. I felt like I’d been through that process before, originating the role of Liza Minelli in The Boy from Oz. So, having played a living icon already, I had kinda checked that one off my list. It was a challenge unlike anything I’ve ever done in my life and I knew that was also going to be the case with Cher. She’s somebody that is so prevalent in our lives and our memories and we have certain ideas embedded in what we think she is. Every night before I step on stage, the expectations would be there before I even sang a note or said a word. That to me seemed like a fight I just wouldn’t win. It just didn’t seem like that would be my next step, especially after Falsettos. Then we sat down and we talked and it was going to be three Chers and it was going to be non-linear. Jason wanted a lot of spiritual elements and sisterhood elements and that’s what allowed me to say “Yes!”
Can you tell us a bit more about the concept of having three different Chers and how that works on stage?
Well, we tell the story together. We don’t pass the torch, as it were. There’s Young Cher, who is called Babe – as in “I Got You Babe” – played by the glorious Micaela Diamond. Then there’s Middle Cher, who is called Lady – as in “Dark Lady” – and that is the awesome Teal Wicks. I love her so much! And then I play Star. We are different embodiments of this woman, but we share the stage and we share scenes. We sing duets with each other. When one of us doesn’t have enough confidence to say something, the others step in. When one is feeling defeated, the others step in. We call it “Cherapy”. It’s much like going to therapy and talking to your younger selves. It’s about being truthful with yourselves, looking back and looking forward, and asking: “How can I help you? How can I nurture you? What lessons did you learn?” And I love that about the storytelling.
I guess there’s a big difference in playing an icon who is still alive, as opposed to an historical icon. And in your case, it’s an icon who is also involved in the show. Did that bring an added element of pressure with it?
The pressure really came the first time we presented it to her in its entirety and on its feet and that was back in October of 2017. It was in a small room – a rehearsal studio, fluorescent lit – and there she was five feet away, watching my portrayal of her. I was really feeling the pressure! I won’t even pretend otherwise. Since then, you always want to make her proud. I always want to be respectful and protect her and keep her safe. But she will always be the source to go to, right? You’re always going to want to ask: “Is there something we should do different? How do you remember this?” I mean storytelling is always going to be theatricalized, altered and adjusted enough to make it entertaining, but every time she’s in the theatre, yep, the pressure is there. The ambience around her changes and the molecular structure in your person and where you are changes. What makes Cher Cher is kind of indescribable, but it’s undeniable.
The Cher Show Tickets are available now for performances through August 18, 2019.
(Production photos by Joan Marcus)