Stephanie J. Block at the Carlyle is a Valentine's Week Delight
The Tony winner takes the stage for a concert all about love.
The perfect Valentine's Day date this year is Stephanie J. Block's new concert at the Café Carlyle. This is a show all about love — specifically, the loves of her life, but more universally, how love has the power to change us — and you can feel that ineffable emotion radiating out of every pore during every song.
Block is one of those performers who digs deep in her song delivery. It would be so simple just to imitate someone like Liza Minnelli or Cher with a campy twinkle, but Block (who has played both of those legendary women in The Boy From Oz and The Cher Show), imbues all of her characters and their words with meticulous realness. All of her vocal inflections, all the aspects of her body language, are based in reality, even as she has a nervous breakdown while chopping carrots.
Yes, William Finn's "I'm Breaking Down" from Falsettos is on her set list (sans carrots). It's a climactic moment in the 75-minute cabaret, and she delivers it with the same glee, maniacal fervor, and genuine anguish that she did at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Were the evening that alone, it would be enough, but there's so much more, and it all comes from her heart.
Loosely, Block takes us through her (admittedly very few) romantic foibles, which are generally summarized in an opening medley of "In the Wee Small Hours," "You Can't Take That Away From Me," and "But Not for Me." She begins this number in a whisper before going full tilt. On a technical level, her vocal control is absolutely amazing to witness here and throughout.
Block admits to childhood crushes on actors like Ralph Macchio and Ricky Schroder, often imagining them in a fistfight for her affection, a fantasy she sets to "What Is It About Her?", from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, in her show. A discussion about her first love, a young man who succumbed to diabetes complications, leads into an unforgettable take on Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" (with Parton providing recorded backup vocals). Sticking with the Parton theme, Block tears the roof off the joint with her anthemic number from 9 to 5, "Get Out and Stay Out" (dedicated to a much older boyfriend who done her wrong).
The concert gets more poignant as Block introduces her husband, Sebastian Arcelus, who takes center stage for a wholehearted rendition of Marc Cohn's "True Companion." (During this number, Block, in a sparkly skirt, inexplicably sits on the floor of the stage as Arcelus takes the mic. Someone please get her a second stool.) They then duet on a jazzy orchestration of "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd. It's a great, totally original arrangement of a Stephen Sondheim classic.
She revives her Tony-winning Cher for two numbers, "The Way of Love," which also soars to the heavens, as well as a surprising new version of "Believe," which removes the original driving rock sound and turns it into a soulful ballad that allows us to actually hear the lyrics.
For me, though, the absolute highlight was the encore — the gorgeous "You" by the band A Great Big World. Hearing lyrics like "And one day all of a sudden / there was you, you, you, you / I don't have to live without you anymore" brought a tear to my eye as I looked at my wife sitting there next to me, rapt. You could tell that others in the crowd, many of who were also on pre-Valentine's Day dates, had similar reactions. It was a deeply felt way to end a show all about love, and a great way to celebrate it, too.