In early 2000, Stephanie J. Block was playing Natasha in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show at Universal Studios when she came home to find a voicemail from composer Stephen Schwartz, who was putting together a little show called Wicked. Block had been working steadily for years by that point — her gigs included voicing Barbie for Mattel commercials and prancing through a non-Equity production of Will Rogers’ Follies in Branson, Missouri, starring Pat Boone. You might think that moment in 2000 would have been her big break — goodbye, cavorting with a cartoon moose, hello Broadway stardom! But as Block tells Billboard, plenty of twists and turns followed, leading her to her current Best Featured Actress Tony nomination for the revival of Falsettos.
Everyone from Falsettos seems to have had these wacky pre-fame jobs — Christian Borle was a Macy’s elf and Andrew Rannells did voices for Yu-Gi-Oh! Does one of yours stand out?
My sister had worked at Disneyland, always playing a very glamorous princess. I don’t know whether I thought it was just in our gene pool, [but] I really expected to be a princess. They handed me an index card that said “Fifer” and I was like ‘Oh my god, Princess Fifer! Who is Princess Fifer?” No, I was one of the Three Little Pigs. I was dancing in 100-degree weather with a 30-pound pig head on my shoulders for an entire summer.
With Wicked, you got what seemed to be a very lucky break — after a lot of hard work.
I’m going to not re-define it as lucky because it was a two-year investment helping to create Elphaba and helping to be a part of this awesome project and it didn’t work out my way. If I had been lucky, I’d like to say I would’ve been taking home the Tony for playing Elphaba, but it didn’t work out that way. [Producers cast Idina Menzel after they decided they wanted a bigger name for Broadway and Block went on to The Boy from Oz.] I like to say I got two Ozes for the price of one. Idina got the Tony and I met my husband [Sebastian Arcelus]. So I feel like I got the better end of the deal.
And then you played Reno in Anything Goes. How did you master all that dancing?
That was a whirlwind of an event because Sutton Foster went off to do a pilot and I was called in to cover her, but I only had 23 hours of rehearsal. I cannot tell you what happened on that first night. I literally have no clue how I got through from walking onstage to taking the bow.
In Falsettos, you completely stop the show with “I’m Breaking Down.” With a banana in your mouth!
I usually come at every number — I throw the entire kitchen sink at it. And it’s up to the director and myself to start peeling things away. With this one [director] James [Lapine] was like, “Give me something else!” It really was kind of a feast to be a complete fool, because James allowed me to do so. In one of the early rehearsals, I just popped a banana in my mouth, and he said, “Do you think you could do that every night without choking?”
How did you come up with the character’s anger without making her feel alienating?
I had recently become a mom and for me this story was not about a gay relationship, a straight relationship, an AIDS musical. It was very much based around how we define family. It just happened to be that my personal life was paralleling Trina’s. It was exhausting to me as an actress and as a woman. And that really revealed itself during the whole storytelling of who this woman was. If this part would have come to me even four or five years prior to where I am now, it would have been a different process and a different Trina. But because I was a really effing exhausted mother, trying to balance a lot in her life and juggle a lot in her life, it crept in.