A “Starry” evening with actress Stephanie J. Block

by Jason Mount

The Bart Luedeke Center Theater was abuzz on Jan. 27 with students and staff alike, chatting about the Tony award-winning actress who was about to grace the stage.

In front of the red curtain, a piano and microphone stand decorated the right side of the stage, while a pair of chairs were placed opposite. Members of the audience were sure that Stephanie J. Block had something dazzling in store for them.

When Block stepped on stage, she was met with loud cheering and thunderous applause. 

“So you didn’t want to watch ‘The Bachelor’ huh? Yeah, I know your lives,” she responded, making light of the moment.

To start the night off, Block and her accompanist sang a variety of songs as a treat for the audience, including “I’m Breaking Down” from “Falsettos” and a slower, soulful version of “Believe” by Cher.

Throughout Block’s performances, the audience was reactive: laughing during “I’m Breaking Down” and silently fixated during “Believe,” even bowing to Block when she was finished.

After her performances, Block moved to the chairs for a conversation with senior musical theater major and Student Entertainment Council member Anna Sanzone.

The first topic of the night was Block’s win of the Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical for her work as “Star” in “The Cher Show.” Block said that in the moments leading up to her win, she was mentally preparing for where she would stand during her acceptance speech. 

“We were doing a performance for ‘The Cher Show’ just moments before, so beforehand I was going over doing it on stage right or stage left in my head,” Block said. “Then it happened and it was center stage, and I was not prepared for center stage.”

On the topic of her work, Block talked about wanting to find her voice and trying to speak out to help the creative process of shows.

“My instincts were screaming at me to ‘stay in my lane’ as the kids call it,” Block stated, evoking a few giggles from the audience. “It didn’t work out for me. I didn’t say anything when audiences weren’t getting it. It was a rough go.”

Block also touched upon the value of her voice, commenting “the phrase ‘diva’ has a different understanding compared to the male voices.”

Ultimately, the award-winning actress explained that she resolved to speak against what she felt did not work for her shows, but accepted the things that made them human. She used her time in the 2009 musical “9 to 5” as an example, saying that she wanted to make her character Judy more outspoken, but could not deny the faults that make her human.

“We have to embrace what’s on the page. Embrace all of the flaws, all of the messy, because that’s what makes it human for the audience,” Block said.

After Block and Sanzone’s conversation, the audience was able to ask the Broadway star questions. One question evoked such an emotional response from Block that it almost brought her to tears.

Senior theater major Anna Meyer asked how Block balances being a parent and a working actress, a question that almost brought Block to tears.

“I could cry right now. It’s really hard…” Block started, her voice noticeably choking up. “But it makes it more meaningful. Every line, every lyric is deeper… It’s hard, but if it’s easy, we’re not living the way we’re meant to.”

Meyer explained that her question was motivated by her own personal dreams, and the response she was given inspired her.

“Being a mom is something that I have always wanted to be,” Meyer elaborated. “Having the chance to ask Stephanie J. Block what it is like to raise a kid and be on Broadway was a moment I will never forget. I didn’t expect her to tear up but that moment was so special and sweet. Her true emotions came out and it reminded me that actors, even famous ones, are people with normal lives.”

Perhaps the advice the audience resonated with most, however, was how Block handles being rejected in an audition: “I go into an audition, and I only want to win the audition. It’s easy to think that the audition could lead to a callback, which could lead to a casting, which could lead to this and that, but that puts a lot of pressure on us.”

Block continued, saying “It’s also empowering knowing you get to say ‘no’ sometimes too. That’s a beautiful thing.”

Published in the 2/5/20 edition.

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