Stephanie J. Block : from Oz to Oz
Interview With Stephanie J. Block From "The Boy From Oz"
Stephanie J. Block is flying high and with good reason. She has been fortunate to be part of not one, but two of the most talked about shows to hit Broadway in the same season, Stephen Schwartz's Wicked and The Boy From Oz. I guess you might say that this gal has found the Emerald City and the red slippers. I had the pleasure of chatting with this delightful lady about her amazing experiences.
Pati Buehler: Stephanie, what a great year for you!
Stephanie Block: It IS amazing!
PB: You have really done a lot of great shows, winning awards for roles in Funny Girl, Oliver and Triumph of Love. What a line up!
SB: I've been very lucky. I've worked regionally. I'm from southern California and was raised on theater and made it my bread and butter. I did a lot of regional theater throughout the entire country. About a year and a half ago, I looked at my family, looked at my boyfriend and said "I think that I've done most of what I can do from Los Angles and I'm gonna head over to New York and try it". It was really amazing. I did some regional work outside of New York and then booked Wicked within the first couple of months. I was in rehearsals with Wicked when I got the call to play Liza in The Boy From Oz. So it's been a really blessed and successful year for me.
PB: You must be pretty pumped.
SB: I am SO excited, Pati!
PB: This is great. But I must ask you; you've been performing since you were 11. When did it hit you that were actually making a career as a performer?
SB: Do you know what, I started singing in my church when I was 7. My congregation got really excited for me and calling my parents and letting them know when a local community theater was doing anything that involved children. I can still remember a production of The King and I and my mother pulling my hair tight in a bun and putting on the eyeliner. My parents were so supportive and showed such an interest at such an early age. With help from my parents and my church community, by age 11 I was chosen to be part of an album called "We Are The World" by The Children of the world. So we literally recorded the same song with voices like Janet Jackson, Drew Barrymore, Alyssa Milano and they had between 15 and 20 regular little kids for the making of the album and the video. From there, the musical director of that project, hired me for a lot of jingles for children's commercials. And so I started building a little bank account and seeing that I can use my gift and have just as much fun, go to school and have my same friends and start making a career out of this. So it wasn't like I jumped into it right away. It was little by little.
I always knew that theater was my passion. There's nothing like performing live, whether that be in church or auditioning for a community theater, getting that immediate response, I knew that was my passion. There's nothing like someone saying "good job" after you've worked so hard on something. Just knowing that you're in the right place and people are enjoying you. It's really an amazing gift to have.
PB: And sharing that gift it what makes it worthwhile. Stephanie, you've had a full plate of performing over time and no doubt many great moments and memories. Any especially favorite role or moments you can share?
SB: Oh My! Well, I'll tell ya. Funny Girl was just amazing. It's such a marathon and such a workout and you feel like you get to show every facet, the comedy, the amazing upbeat belt tunes, heart breaking ballads. There's physical comedy, a twenty-five year span that you get to play. So that is an amazing role and it's one of the most fulfilling roles I've ever played. Of course there's always the comparison with the amazing Barbra Streisand, but you just have to take it from the point of view of Fanny Brice. I did tons and tons of research on the true story, which is of Fanny Brice, rather than re-create what Barbra Streisand had done. Another unbelievable moment is when I did go on for Elphaba in San Francisco in Wicked.
That, for me, was such a crossing of the finish line, if you will. I have worked with Stephen Schwartz for about two years even when it was just a hand full of songs, then to just reading act one, which was over three hours. So I was a part of the readings and workshops for about two years in LA as Elphaba. And then when it came to New York. I did not have any Broadway credits However the cards fell, I became Idina's cover and to be able to go on and fulfill the role in the full production with the orchestra, and the costumes. Well, it was an incredible evening for me.
PB: Well, the way things are going who knows what you could be in store for down the road?
SB: Oh! It was amazing. Stephen and Winnie Holzman, who wrote the book and Marc Platt, who was one of the producers, were all there in the audience and had tremendous things to say and you're right, who knows what can happen down the road.
PB: I imagine will have a lot of loyal supporters in your corner.
SB: Well, thank you!
PB: I'm sure our readers would like to know about your role as Liza and your fellow cast members.
SB: When I first got this role, I was so happy doing Wicked and I knew I was going to be attached to that project for a while. I was so sure that was going to be my Broadway debut and I got a call from my agents, I guess the last week we were rehearsing here in New York before flying to San Francisco. They actually call me "the year and a day" girl because that's how long it took them to cast Liza . And I said "well sure, being new to New York, I want to sing for every producer, every casting director, every director I never met and get myself out there". So there I was on Monday on lunch break from my Wicked rehearsals. I went in. It went very well. They asked me to come back on Tuesday on my lunch break. They said "well, what are you doing next week on Monday". And that's when I was scheduled to fly to San Francisco. So they said they were going to arrange for another flight. That's when they said that Hugh Jackman was going to be coming in and we would have a one to two hour work session with him and it all went so well. About a half hour from when I left the room, I got the role. The offer came through to my agent and I was out of my mind excited. After weeping and screaming and calling my family, I sat down and thought, "what have I just done? (laughing). Because Liza, being such an amazing icon, with everyone having a different view of her, but still so fresh and so personal, I thought that I had agreed to do something that I could never win.
Once again, I said, in attacking a role, I'm gonna do this from a point of view of an actress. Everyone on the creative team was so amazing in saying that " we do not want an impersonator, it's too easy to do that, it's been done too many times". We're really trying to tell a true-life story. Even though Liza Minelli and Judy Garland are an integral part of Peter's story, it's not their story. Remember that you are a supporting character, which is very hard for these power personalities, Liza and Judy. I just started to work on it from an actress. Read every book; watch every show from guest starring with her mom on the "Judy Garland Show". Everything she did I watched. Her earlier stuff, her "Sterile Cuckoo, Charlie Bubbles, Do You Love me Julie Moon?" because that's when you first meet Liza in the play. It's 1964 and she hadn't become what so much of how the public remembers her from Cabaret on. So it was amazing to see this 18 yr. old girl with vulnerability, although she still had so much star quality and you knew this woman just had a presence about her. But she was so vulnerable, so awkward. She's such a raw, pedestrian. So I went from there.
I have about 45 to 50 minuets of stage time to cover about a 25-year span. I hope the audience is able to see the growth, this silly awkward girl into what we know as the consummate star. The show really grew and changed a lot. They wanted to make sure that they honored her, that they respected her, that they would tell the story truthfully but yet still get the response from the audience that they wanted. So, every night I never did the same show, I'm not kidding you. For about three weeks, there were line changes, wig changes, or complete new songs. And Hugh, because all of my scenes are done with Hugh, was amazing. He would come in and give 100% every time for me. They finished the show about 3 performances before the critics came in and I let out a huge sigh and said" Ok, let's finally live in THIS show" (laughing). I had a good sense and feeling about it. And now that it's up and running, it's such a joy to play. So that is my journey with Liza. She has not come to see the show yet, but I did meet her and she was so warm and gracious. It was at Carnegie Hall. And her energy filled the entire space before she had said a word or sang a note. She is an incredible personality.
PB: I agree! I sometimes ask this because it usually draws out the inner person a bit. Stephanie, who are your heroes in this industry, either on stage or behind the curtain?
SB: Wow, What a great question! You know this is gonna sound so cheesy. I know my heroes come and go and I respect and admire people for so many different reasons. Lately it has been Hugh Jackman and his wife Debra. Pati, I cannot say enough about them. What they do for charities is incredible. They maintain such a loving and close relationship with all the craziness of stardom. They're so grounded. They blow me away. What Hugh does onstage and his work ethic and backstage, it's truly like speaking with a brother or sister. They are both so amazing and giving with everyone that comes into their presence. With Hugh's star power and his generosity with the show, he's taken so much of his personal time to sign autographs and take pictures and much more for charity. Just recently at the BCEFA, our cast will bring in close to $600,000. He comes in an hour and a half early before curtain, puts on an amazing 2 hours onstage and gives another 45 minuets for charities. They're constantly appearing at events and that to me is truly what a star is. I guess for now these are my heroes.
PB: "What goes around comes around" as they say. And that's a great experience. Well, my last question is, what projects, if any, are in your future after OZ?
SB: Well, I'm scheduled to be with Oz until next September. I'm already looking into other things. Not to spill any beans, but I certainly would like to be involved with another Oz project. (laughing).
PB: Well. These are both great themed projects, both of the "Ozs'". (laughing)
SB: They really are. ( laughing). I so love playing the character of the wicked witch and singing Stephen Schwartz music. I would love to play that role after Idina has completed her successful run and is ready to move into another project. But that's my hope, as you said to stick with the Oz theme.
PB: And it seems you are just as they say, in all the right places with all the right people right now. And I wish this wave of success that you are riding continues for you.
SB: Oh, thank you so much.