“There has been more ownership of myself because I have been playing Cher,” reveals Stephanie J. Block. The Broadway veteran earned her third Tony nomination recently for playing the pop icon in “The Cher Show.” The unexpected opportunity has pushed the actress in surprising directions professionally and personally.
“She has given me this extraordinary freedom,” declares Block. Cher views herself as a “goddess warrior” and apologizes for nothing. Embodying that mindset is a different experience than Block is used to, but has allowed the actor to hold back less. “When I step onstage, it really is a different creature,” she explains.
Of course, beginning the show by rising out of the stage in an epic Bob Mackie costume certainly must help snap into the pop diva. Block has an astounding 30 costumes and 29 quick changes. There can be anywhere from three to nine dressers helping the process at any given moment. Block fully embraces Cher’s look: exposed midriff and feather headdresses included. Though she was initially nervous about donning the revealing costumes, she confesses there’s “a comfort that I have grown to embrace about these costumes.” That comfort matches the “take me or leave me” confidence of Cher. “When she steps on stage, there’s no ‘please love me,’” explains Block, “I had to adapt to that.”
On nailing Cher’s voice and physicality, Block says, “I must admit, I had to start outward-in.” The performance is far from a cheap mimic, but she “did have to do impersonation for a long time.” That process allowed her time to find the emotionally underbelly of the character, so that the mannerisms felt natural instead of a joke. Block describes needing to put Cher “in my own skin” so she could ultimately bring humanity to the performance.
Complicating matters is the fact that Block is one of three Chers in the musical. Micaela Diamond and Teal Wicks play the singer at other points in her life. Since each actress could interpret Cher in different ways, they created “bookmarks” to keep each other on the same page (think hair flips, vocal trills, and poses). These moments of synchronicity between the three women help form “a connective tissue” in the piece. “We look at each other all the time and say ‘no one will really know what this is except the three of us’” says Block of their small shared moments. “But that secret in and of itself is a beautiful connective thing.”
The most freeing bit of character advice came from the goddess warrior herself. At one point, Cher sat Block down and said “you have to be as much you as me.” Hearing that from the source “was such an allowance” and helped Block turn the role into a “fully flesh and blood, three dimensional human.”