The Cher Show Star Stephanie J. Block Swings Into Provincetown
by Steve Desroches
When Stephanie J. Block was a little girl in 1970s Orange County, California, she noticed a particular doll on a shelf in a toy store one day. All the other dolls pretty much looked the same—white, blonde hair, blue eyes in a variety of rather boring outfits. But this doll was different. It had long, dark hair and an olive complexion, and it was in a fabulous salmon gown. Block was very young, but this doll is emblazoned in her memory as it stood out amongst all the toys that day. At the time it was flashy, and as she got a little older, it was the first time she could recall seeing traditional beauty standards challenged. Maybe that doll was a benevolent omen. That twelve-inches-tall doll was larger than life to Block, and it represented a larger than life figure in not just American pop culture, but global stardom. Her full name is Cherilyn Sarkisian La Piere Bono Allman, but you know her as Cher.
It’s personal moments like that, says Block, that are in part why Cher is now in her sixth decade as a pop icon and millions around the world have their own such moments. And it’s why The Cher Show, featuring the music Cher made famous over the past 60 years, is headed to Broadway with Block as one of the three women who portray the megawatt star. The jukebox musical had its world premiere at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago in June, running a month, and it’s now preparing for New York where it will play at the Neil Simon Theatre starting in previews in November, before opening night on December 3. Block received rave reviews for her performance and has been resting on Cape Cod with her family for several weeks. Before heading back to New York, she’ll swing through Provincetown for two nights at the Art House, where she might give a sneak peek at parts of The Cher Show, as well as more than a few surprises with Seth Rudetsky as pianist and host.
It was an intimidating role playing Cher, to say the least, since Cher herself is still very much playing Cher as she finishes her residency at the Theater at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C., in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Block made her Broadway debut as Liza Minnelli in The Boy From Oz, and she laughs at the post-traumatic stress she felt portraying that still-living legend. And now another one. But Cher inspires, not just through her life’s work, but also in working with the cast since October 2017 on the show. When Cher walks into a room, the energy changes, says Block. While she’s only five-foot-seven, Cher says when she hits the stage she becomes a 15-foot tall woman. Cher is a force, says Block, and it is infectious.
“I don’t know if I should say it like this, but I play the role like I found an in quotes ‘big dick energy,’” says Block. “I’ve always been confident, but this role has activated a f**k-it energy. Cher has always been about being herself with no apologies because she’s f**king Cher.”
Indeed, Block has captured the essence of Cher while maintaining her own stature as a celebrated star of American musical theater. The Cher Show features nearly 30 costumes for each of the three actresses, all designed by the legendary fashion and costume designer Bob Mackie, as well as nearly as many songs. She’s worked hard to capture the tonality and vibrations in Cher’s iconic and singular voice, noting that no one sings a vowel quite like her. You have Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, J-Lo, says Block, but Cher is the original. And as Cher is prone to saying, “Follow this, bitches” has become a mantra for the cast, as well.
While Block gets to wear a wide array of fabulous costumes, she noticed as she became a student of Cher that the Academy-Award-winning actress is at home in any role, whether it requires sequins or ripped jeans. But above all else, Cher has resilience, as she told the cast that she’s like a bumper car; she drives in one direction and if she hits an obstacle, she backs up and then heads a different way. And if you look, really look, at a Cher stage show over the years, she’s this anchor to a complete carnival swinging around her. It’s like she’s casting marvelous spells conjuring up campy spirits and glittery apparitions. Block adds that at 72, Cher could easily retire and rest on the laurels of an exceptional career, but that her work is a “true ministry” for her.
“We like to say, ‘Cher is an and, not a but,” says Block. “Cher is all things.”
So, too, is the two-time Tony-Award-nominated star of Broadway shows like Wicked, Anything Goes, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 9 to 5, and Falsettos. Block’s talent and versatility make her an in-demand actress, as she can skate easily, or at least make it look easy, from traditional Broadway shows to something more experimental and has the chops to be able to sing the Cher songbook eight times a week, putting a 60-year career into a two-hour show. And that’s what will be on display when she takes to the stage at the Art House, as Rudetsky is known for the fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants style that allows the Broadway stars who come in for the series to fully show the wide range of their talents.
With a family home on the Cape, Block has been to Provincetown many times before, but this marks her performance debut, and for that she’s thrilled. Just would someone please save her a parking space!
“I love it, love it, love it,” says Block. “I love Provincetown. Other than trying to find a place to park, I love it!”
Stephanie J. Block performs with Seth Rudetsky as pianist and host at the Art House, 214 Commercial St., Provincetown, Tuesday, August 21 and Wednesday, August 22 at 6 p.m. Tickets ($50/$75/$100) are available at the box office and online at ptownarthouse.com. For more information call 508.487.9222.