BWW INTERVIEWS: Stephanie J Block, Broadway Star And Now In London!

By: Feb. 22, 2010

Hi Stephanie, and welcome back to the West End. You did the Scott Alan concert at the end of last year - have you got a taste for performing in London now?!

I'm not sure what "a taste" of performing is -every live performance is so different. The experience changes with a different venue, a different audience, a different song set. One of the reasons I love theatre is for that exact reason, it's constantly new. No two performances will ever be the same. Having said all that, I certainly feel more calm than I did the last time because I now have been to the West End, met and performed with some of London's greatest musical theatre talents and learned from that trip. It always helps to have a mental picture of things. And after performing with Scott and enjoying London for a few days, I have that. Although I'm sure I'll still get lost quite a bit. London is a complicated town to navigate.

How do you go about picking a set-list for a show like this?

Set-lists for concerts such as these are challenging. It's an opportunity to sing everything you ever wanted. But you have to make sure there is a reason and a flow to the evening. You can't just belt out 12 tunes and call it a night. I am a singer who choses to perform certain songs because of the way the lyrics move me... it has to mean something (to me) or else it won't mean anything to the audience. I found a lot of remarkable songs while choosing music for my debut CD. I think I will be singing several of those tunes as they are still so close to my heart.

You released your debut album last year. What was the experience of recording that like?

Recording THIS PLACE I KNOW was so rewarding. It was a total labour of love bringing me to sheer exhaustion and an empty bank account but the most artistically gratifying experience I've had to date. It was extremely important to me that I expand my "voice" and not just sing on the album, but to make any and all decisions, from the graphic design, to reaching out to the composers, to approving all arrangements, to mastering and mixing. I, of course, surrounded myself with amazing people whose help, knowledge and love made the album possible. My greatest asset was my musical director and co-producer, Dominick Amendum. He was so fantastic! Together, we learned how to record and release an album that we can forever be proud of.

I've seen an interview of yours previously where you said that *almost* everybody you approached said yes to you using their songs on your album - who said no?!

Well, no one actually said "no". There were a few email correspondences that trickled out, scheduling difficulties,etc... And since we were on a timeline, I had to release the hope of recording with these particular composers. One artist that I had really hoped to work with was Jason Robert Brown. He was totally on board, but between his schedule and my schedule, we just couldn't get into the studio together. He had offered to record himself and his band in LA and then I could lay down my vocals in NYC, but that wasn't the vibe of the album. The whole reason for the album was to collaborate with the composers and lyricists and connect in a very "live" way. Unfortunately, he and I just couldn't make it happen this time around. I sincerely hope we get the chance in the future - he, along with Adam Guettel and John Kander.

And of course you originated the role of Judy in 9 TO 5. What was it like working with Dolly Parton - and getting to sing with her on your album?

9 TO 5: The Musical was a dream job. The cast, the material, the audiences - everything and everyone was just so joyous. I miss that show every day! And I think what made it so fun and full of joy was Dolly. It all starts at the top. She instilled a work ethic and work environment that made everyone reach for the highest level, and we all tried to do so with great respect, great kindness and great pride. Therefore, our producers were generous and kind. Our director, Joe Mantello, brought out the best in his entire creative team. And as actors, we adored him for his open heart and love for the project. I am telling you, Dolly was infectious. We all wanted to make her proud. Did I mention I miss the show every day?!

Now, approaching Dolly to work on the album was a challenge for me. She and I had developed a wonderful relationship through 9 TO 5 and I didn't want to cross a line by asking for such a favour. However, I would leave the studio after recording with such wonderful composers and say, "OK, you have to ask Dolly. Just ask and see what happens. If you don't you'll always wonder." So after about a month of this internal dialogue, I tried to write the perfect email inviting her to share a track on my album. I said that I would love to have her in any capacity. It took me days of editing the email so that it was just right. I sent it one evening and woke up the very next morning to the most loving and gracious response. Needless to say, she said yes and suggested we sing "I Will Always Love You". I was elated! I still have her response email saved.

Were you surprised that the show didn't run for longer?

I was and am really surprised. There is no clear explanation as to why we are not still running. Critics didn't give us the reviews we were hoping for. The Tonys didn't recognize many of the production elements. But our audiences were out of their minds - in a good way. The laughter that filled the Hilton Theatre every night  was undeniable. We all loved what we were doing on stage and the audience felt that. Like I said before, Dolly is infectious and she was infused in every bit of the production. I am not sure I'll ever wrap my head around the early closing of 9 TO 5. I wish the show great success when it begins its tour here in the US.

What do you have lined up for this year?

I don't have another Broadway show lined up in my immediate future. There are some exciting prospects and I look forward to see how they pan out. But for now, it's concert work and being a devoted wife. Nice work, if you can get it!

Stephanie and her production team would like to offer all Broadway World readers the special ticket price of £20 for either of her performances at the New Players Theatre on Sunday 28th February (6pm & 8.30pm). To take advantage of this offer, all you need to do is call Soho Theatre on 0207 478 0135 and quote "Broadway World Offer".

Her special guests include her PIRATE QUEEN leading man Hadley Fraser, and WICKED London alumni Annalene Beechey and Oliver Tompsett.

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