Final Bow: Stephanie J. Block Is "Breaking Down" Her Experience in Falsettos
Block plays Trina in the first-ever Broadway revival of William Finn and James Lapine's legendary musical.
Theater geeks were atwitter when casting was first announced for the 2016 Broadway revival of William Finn and James Lapine's Falsettos. The company turned out to be a theater fan's dreamcast come to life. Christian Borle leads the company as Marvin, who leaves his wife, played by Stephanie J. Block, for a man, played by Andrew Rannells.
Block, a Tony nominee known for her skills as one of Broadway's great belters, was entrusted with the role of Trina and two huge show-stopping songs: the crazed "I'm Breaking Down," and the emotional "Trina's Song." For Block, the relevance of Falsettos, a show initially performed on Broadway as the AIDS crisis was in full swing, will never dim. Especially, she says, in light of all that has happened in 2016.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say?
My favorite line in the show has become, "I'm tired of all the happy men who rule the world...happy, frightened men who rule the world." "Trina's Song" has always been an emotional moment for me (from the very first time I sang it through), but since November 9, this particular line has become all the more real and resonant.
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
I cannot share this tight-knit family's inside jokes. However, I will say that if one of us breaks, it becomes a domino effect and we all go down. "It's about time to grow up, don't ya think?" We are still trying to apply this line to our own lives and performances.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
Our show is not very technical, in the sense that we, the cast, move all set pieces throughout the show. Our "block" [set pieces] can become very complicated and difficult when we are not exact in our movement and placement. In all honesty, I am the worst of the group when it comes to moving these set pieces. One day I decided to lather up my hands with lotion at the places call and that was a huge mistake. I could not grab a hold of anything. During "Four Jews..." I was dropping and fumbling every block I touched. It was like a Carol Burnett skit. There have also been a couple of times when, at the top of act two, Christian pushes the FalsettoLAND set down and a block has fallen in the pit. Twice it has hit the same substitute musician. I hope she hasn't taken it personally.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
Our "Fansettos" are really artistic and creative. We have all received paintings of our characters, dolls of our characters, rubber duckies of our characters. And the beauty of it is, if something is made for one, it's made for all seven of us. We love the inclusiveness of the fan art. Thank you, guys!
5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
We have had some super cool people come to the show and I could write a list of stars' names, but having the original cast in the audience on opening night was the most special. We could feel them out in the house. We could hear them laughing collectively at small changes or new interpretations in the piece, small details only they would notice. There was a really special and unspoken bond that happened and I won't ever forget it.
6. How hard was it/how long did it take for you and your costars to memorize the patterns of the interlocking pieces of the set?
When I first saw David Rockwell's set, I thought, "Wow. This is bold. How in the hell is this going to work?" The block/puzzle seemed impossible to reconfigure enough ways to sustain and service an entire show. But it does, and, in my opinion, does it brilliantly for our storytelling. On day three of rehearsal, we needed to be off book so we could jump right in and start moving the set around. We had to become very familiar with the set and all its pieces so that we could manipulate it without it upstaging us and the story. I will say that it was more complicated and even more choreographed early in the rehearsal process. Spencer Liff, our brilliant choreographer, continued to work and rework as to maximize the set yet minimize the movement. He was as much a mathematician as he was a choreographer.
7. What is your definition of the word "Falsettos" as the title of the show?
"Falsettos," to me, is the indication of a boy growing into a man. One's "voice" is about to change, about to mature. Soon the body will follow, then the mind, and, hopefully, his actions.
8. Is it nerve-wracking to chop like crazy with a butcher's knife and eat a banana all while singing "I'm Breaking Down"?
"Breaking Down" is mostly my fault. I was given a cookbook, a few bowls, a butcher knife, a peeler, a banana, a carrot, and a fake bloody finger (which was cut — no pun intended — during previews). I found myself adding and adding and eating and cutting, etc., totally expecting James to trim the action. Well, it seemed to work for him and so all the crazy, neurotic business stayed. I look forward to that number, and its many challenges, every performance.
9. Did the message or the delivery of your big songs change during the run given the world events that have taken place this fall?
As a performer I can find new weight, new meaning(s), and new takes on so many of William Finn's lyrics based on the current news or struggles of the day. When speaking with people after the show, I find that they hear lyrics a specific way depending on their own emotional space and/or life experience. This piece will be timeless for that reason. It becomes what the audience needs it to become all the while staying true to its original message. Genius, right?
10. What is the most meaningful comment you've heard from an audience member after the show?
It's so interesting to speak with guests immediately after the show. Eyes are red and puffy. People are unable to articulate exactly how they are feeling and why. I usually receive a follow-up text message or e-mail a day or two later expressing how deeply Falsettos moved them and will continue to do so. It has been remarkable to know that the Falsettos experience hits and stays with people. It will certainly stay with me for the rest of my life.