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Anything Goes - Broadway

Stephanie J. Block stars in the Broadway revival of the Cole Porter favorite.

Anything Goes Star Stephanie J. Block Looks Back on Wicked, The Pirate Queen, Channeling Liza Minnelli & More

Anything Goes Star Stephanie J. Block Looks Back on Wicked, The Pirate Queen, Channeling Liza Minnelli & More
Stephanie J. Block
Stephanie J. Block recalls her larger-than-life characters.

With a Broadway resume that includes Elphaba in Wicked and Irish chieftain Grace O’Malley in The Pirate Queen, it’s no wonder Stephanie J. Block laughingly declares, “People are used to seeing me standing center stage, belting my guts out.” These days, Block is giving angst a rest and embracing her saucy side as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes. This in-demand star recently chatted with about Reno, Elphie, Liza and other favorite roles.

Role That Fans Ask Me About Most
Wicked [2005/2007] is the show fans constantly return to, and it all goes back to Elphie. The underdog story is a universal theme, and so is the story of friendship. At this point, there are 25 people walking around who have played Elphaba, but back in 2005 there were just three of us, Idina [Menzel], Shoshana [Bean] and myself, so I feel blessed to know we gave birth to this beautiful character. I started working on Wicked in 2000, and when we presented the reading in 2002, I turned to Kristin Chenoweth and said, ‘Whoever plays these roles is winning a Tony; this is musical theater history-making.’ You just knew! I was cast as Idina’s understudy/standby, and they were very honest in saying, ‘You have no Broadway credits, and we can’t risk a $16 million production on someone who has never been through this process.’ Then I got The Boy From Oz, so I got two Ozes for the price of one.”

Role That Was the Biggest Surprise
“I thought my Broadway debut would be Wicked, but the next thing I knew, I was auditioning for The Boy From Oz and opening on Broadway as Liza Minnelli [2003]. The role was both challenging and petrifying in the sense that Liza is still an active part of our community. I knew I would be compared to this living icon, and I knew there could be a huge backlash. Interestingly, I spoke to Liza before we went into production, and she was thrilled that Peter Allen, her first love and best friend, was going to be honored in a musical. She never came to see it—it was expressed to me that she felt the dynamic would change with an audience watching her watching her own life. And, of course, she would have had to witness the death of her first husband and her mother, Judy Garland, on stage. I could talk for hours about [Oz star] Hugh Jackman’s talent and generosity; his heart is as beautiful as his face.”

Role That Was the Hardest
“Nothing has compared to what was expected of me in The Pirate Queen [2007]. I sang 23 songs, there was aerial work and sword-fighting, I gave birth onstage, I walked through fire…it was one of those scripts that makes you think, ‘How marvelous, I’m in everything, it’s going to be epic!’ Then when you actually get on stage, the question becomes, ‘How in the world am I going to do this eight times a week?’ I loved the fact that [Grace O’Malley] was a historical figure who was ahead of her time, someone willing to risk her life for her people and her beliefs. The piece was flawed, but there were so many moments that were stunning. For some reason, New York critics decided we were at the wrong place at the wrong time—that the community had moved from epic musicals in the vein of Les Miz and Miss Saigon to edgy boutique musicals. I believe there’s room for everything on Broadway. I look back on that time very fondly, because once I made it through that show, I felt like I could do anything.”

Role I Would Like to Do Again
“I fell in love with Sonia Walsk in They’re Playing Our Song [2010]. I was lucky enough to share the stage with Jason Alexander—we did it at the Reprise company in L.A., which is in the vein on Encores! You rehearse for a week, tech for four or five days, perform for two weeks and you’re done. Everything about it was at this heightened pitch, which made it exciting. Sonia is kooky, she’s honest, she’s optimistic, and it felt like doing a play because Neil Simon’s writing is so beautifully nuanced and so specific. It’s a role I would love to come back to, because it felt like I just touched on all the wonderful traits of this character and then it was over. Some people think the show is dated, but I personally think it works as a period piece of what life was like in New York in the 1970s.”

Role I Looked the Best In
“I feel like a million bucks in Anything Goes, whether I’m in a robe or an evening gown or the pantsuit Reno wears during the big tap number. Marty Pakledinaz designs costumes that are beautiful to wear, and because the show takes place on a ship, where everyone is of the upper crust, the costumes glisten and have a fantastic elegance. I have hips and thighs, but Marty made sure the costumes drape beautifully and are flattering to my body. You hold yourself differently because of the style of these gowns. I think my initial run in this show surprised people who are used to seeing me standing center stage, belting my guts out. In regional theater, I’ve done Crazy For You and Guys and Dolls; shows like that shaped the performer I am today. People who have seen Anything Goes said, ‘You’re an old-fashioned theater broad,’ and that’s exactly right.”

Role That Showed a Different Side
of Me

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark [2011] was my first play in New York, and it was an honor to be in the room with a Pulitzer Prize-winning author [Lynn Nottage]. My character, Gloria, was an impulsive, dramatic starlet. In the world of musical theater, you’re grounded in realism, but there’s always a sense of heightened expression, and Gloria allowed me to do that without having to break into song every 10 or 15 minutes. It’s was also wonderful in the sense that I got to go from my mid-20s in the first act all the way to my mid-70s by the end, and I loved threading two ages into the same character based on her life experiences. There was a lot of interest in moving the play [to Broadway], and there is still buzz about it having a life in L.A. this fall, but I’ve booked another project that will take me into 2013; I’m not allowed to announce it yet! I’ve been blessed to run the gamut of characters who express themselves very differently.”

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