First-Time Tony Nominee: Stephanie J. Block’s nod for ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ is well-deserved after a decade of magical performances

Stephanie J. Block.

Stephanie J. Block.

“Oh come on, that’s ridiculous!” The young woman exclaimed. She stood center stage, about to belt out a classic Peter Allen song alongside Hugh Jackman. In her Broadway debut, this gig was not too shabby to say the least.

“I mean, look at…my sweater. It’s too big! No one’s going to fall in love with someone in an oversized sweater!” she continued.

Despite her character’s protests, plenty of people have fallen in love with that lady.

You know her, you love her, you want her to play Fanny Brice in a Broadway revival of Funny Girl. And now she has her first Tony Award nomination!

Over the years Stephanie J. Block has proven her strengths as a versatile actress with a jaw-dropping vocal range and this year Block has been recognized in the category of Best Leading Actress in a Musical.

These very talents have had fans flocking to her performances time after time, and her nomination for this particular role was not the least bit surprising for those who were able to see her in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Block portrayed the title role of the revival, which ran from Nov. 13, 2012 until March 10, 2013. The musical, based on Charles Dickens’ final and unfinished novel, unfolds the story of the murder of Edwin Drood. His mysterious disappearance raises questions, and suddenly each character must face the music as they are all accused of this wrongdoing. The audience is able to vote for whom they believe committed the crime, resulting in different endings after each performance.

Although she gave a knockout performance as this dynamic character, Block wasn’t overly familiar with the piece before stepping into this role. However, due to her visible understanding of it along with the fact that, while honoring the original performance, she was also able to make the part her own, it would have been impossible to tell! She had bubbling chemistry with all of her cast mates (especially fellow nominee Will Chase, who she will be starring alongside in Little Miss Sunshine at Second Stage Theatre this fall.) A highlight of her performance was her rendition of “The Writing on the Wall,” especially that outstanding high E belt at the end.

Before she arrived at the cutting-edge Broadway, Block was born and raised in sunny Brea, California. When she was seven, she discovered the power of her voice while singing a solo in church. Her realization derived from the congregation’s positive reaction to her, which kick-started her passion: performing for an audience. The first musicals she saw on Broadway were Kiss of the Spider Woman, Tommy, and Crazy for You, which she later went on to star in regionally as Polly.

Block took part in the original readings of Wicked, but was replaced by Idina Menzel when the production started to take off. However, she was able to move forth into a different kind of Oz in her Broadway debut.

In The Boy From Oz, which is a musical that carried through the life, love, and loss of singer-songwriter Peter Allen, Block took on the role of Liza Minnelli. In real life, the beloved icon was married to Allen, and in the musical, Minnelli is depicted from her younger years into her eventual separation from him.

The best part about Block’s performance in The Boy From Oz was that she did not do an imitation by any means, but rather portrayed Minnelli with respect and poise, and made the character that she originated into a strong-willed one. She has described this as the “most challenging” role she’s ever played but this was only the beginning.

Block went on to perform and thrive in several other Broadway musicals. In The Pirate Queen, she played the leading role of Grace O’Malley, a real-life figure of the sixteenth century who became noted for resisting the English conquest of Gaelic Ireland. This role was physically demanding, and required her to do several high-flying stunts. In some of them, she didn’t have any safeties to fall back on.

In Block’s return to Wicked, she originated Elphaba in the first national tour and received a Helen Hayes Award for her performance in 2006. After The Pirate Queen, she was able to reprise the role on Broadway opposite her husband Sebastian Arcelus, who has also appeared in shows including Rent and Jersey Boys. Block has stated that she is hoping to perform in a production of Ragtime with him someday.

She went on to play Judy Bernly in 9 to 5, a rather timid woman who has no work experience but is determined to make it on her own. Block’s empowering 11 o’clock number “Get Out and Stay Out” became an enormously popular anthem for females.

Block later took on the role of Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, in which she succeeded Sutton Foster. In this role, she was able to show off another skill of hers: tap dancing. Who knew! Block is full of surprises. (Did you know she can also play the glockenspiel?)

Block is by far one of the most humble and genuinely lovely people in this industry. Her generous spirit can be seen at full force during the holiday season (she is a huge fan of Christmas!) or just at a meeting at the stage door. She is so kind and gracious to her fans (the self-entitled “Blockheads”) and simply always has a smile on her face. Her loveable little puppy Macaco has become a fan favorite as well, who actually starred alongside her in The Mystery of Edwin Drood!

Block has stated in recent interviews that on the morning of April 30, she was stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike when her cell phone began to ring, and “just cried” upon the news of her nomination. (On a personal note, I have been a fan of Block’s for many years now, and I shared the same reaction that day.)

“Tony nominee Stephanie J. Block” has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Congratulations to Stephanie J. Block, a true talent and beauty inside and out!

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