Stephanie J. Block
Stephanie J. Block takes home the prestigious Sarah Siddons Award
Thu. November 23, 2023 by Jerry Nunn
They decided to take the time to honor me and that is a really beautiful thing.
stephanie j. block
Stephanie J. Block lights up The Arts Club of Chicago
Tony Award winner Stephanie J. Block was honored with the Sarah Siddons Society’s 2023 Award on November 20, 2023, at The Arts Club of Chicago. On that special night local artists Marya Grandy, Heidi Kettenring, Rob Lindley and Bethany Thomas performed songs highlighting Block’s illustrious career before the trophy was presented by Society president Martin Balogh at the end of the celebration.
This talented performer is known for a long Broadway legacy that dates back to 2003 with the role of Liza Minnelli in The Boy from Oz. She took home a Tony Award for her work portraying the iconic lead character in The Cher Show, which debuted in Chicago before opening in New York.
In 2023, she played The Baker’s Wife in the national tour of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods and released a holiday album titled Merry Christmas, Darling.
Block took time to sit down and reflect on achievements after receiving the Sarah Siddons Award at The Arts Club.
JN: (Jerry Nunn) Looking back on your career on a night like this what has been a special moment for you?
SJB: (Stephanie J. Block) I thought about my humble beginnings of doing The Will Rogers Follies 12 times a week in Branson, Missouri with Pat Boone. I left that and went back to the Ozarks to have a morning show on a steamboat on Table Rock Lake, which was owned by Dolly Parton.
Honey, I have lived the lives!
JN: I have been so fortunate to interview over 20 recipients of the Sarah Siddons Awards over the years from an early honoree Cloris Leachman to 2022’s Sandy Duncan and now you!
SJB: Thank you.
JN: I didn’t interview you during The Cher Show because I interviewed Bob Mackie during that time. What was one takeaway from that project for you?
SJB: I have so many things. One would be that Bob is incredible. I had over 20 costume fittings and he designs everything on the body. He knows bodies better than anyone I have ever met.
He gave me a vintage piece to wear to the Tony Awards. That was incredible.
He allowed me to stand in some of the originals that were Cher’s costumes so I could feel like her. She called herself “the 15-foot tall woman” when she wore his clothes and would stand onstage. He wanted me to possess that agency of myself.
The other special moment was what Cher told me herself. She is very candid and nothing is placated or drenched in pleasantries. She will tell people the truth and in her own way.
Cher said, “What you are doing is leaning forward and asking people to love you. That is not what I do. I lean back and open my spirit. If they lean in then they come on the ride, if not it will be a long two-and-a-half-hour Cher Show for them!”
She told me to not ask for their permission and I have taken that with me ever since.
JN: That is so empowering.
SJB: Yes! It is not being disrespectful. It is standing in your strength and allowing people to go with you on a journey.
JN: Cher doesn’t act like I celebrity and was down to earth when I met her.
SJB: So beyond cool, right? I think it is because she is very comfortable in her own skin. The way she walks in jeans is the very same as when she hardly wears anything with a Bob Mackie design. The way she is onstage is the same way as when she walks down the street. I loved that connection with her!
JN: I saw you grow very emotional when accepting the Sarah Siddons Award. What does it mean to you?
SJB: I did get emotional and I used the word “seen.” As artists, we are not looking for recognition by any means, but we are onstage to connect with people. We make sure that the storytelling that we are delivering through song, dance or acting resonates with people. We want those moments to stick with the people in the audience.
My body of work meant something to a lot of people to earn this award. They decided to take the time to honor me and that is a really beautiful thing.
To have my name alongside all of those performers who have received the same award since 1952 was overwhelming to me.
This is was not my first award, but it is the first time I was recognized for a whole body of work. I didn’t know what to expect. I was weeping when I saw all of the other artists on the slide show. It is tremendous to stand beside them and behind them. I am now a part of the legacy that seems mighty and important.
Who knows if some of the scholarship award recipients from tonight might get an award one day?
JN: Maybe I should run around and get pictures with them all.
SJB: You might want to! [both laugh]
JN: Is there one musical that you would like to do, but haven’t yet?
SJB: Well, I am too old now, but I have done Funny Girl three times regionally and that story touched me in such a way that I felt like a mirror and a window when I played Fannie Brice. I am too long in the tooth now, so that is one that got away to play on Broadway.
Another one that might seem trite but is important in this day and age, is playing Mame. The idea of celebrating every day and finding joy wherever we can, especially in this dark and messy time, would be very transformative and would transport audiences to happier times and places. Isn’t that what we are trying to do? We bring people into a brick-and-mortar building so we can all sit together, breathe together and feel together. If you can elevate that to a place of joy and audiences can leave happier than when they walked in then you won and did what you needed to do.
JN: what are your thoughts on the new Wicked movie?
SJB: I can’t wait to see it. I have seen some of the behind-the-scenes and costume designs. It looks epic. You can almost smell and taste it. It seems like it will activate all of the senses when the film comes out.
I had some doubts about Ariana Grande, but apparently, she is magical!
JN: I just saw the new musical movie version of The Color Purple and loved every minute of it. Danielle Brooks was something special in it.
SJB: She hosts a reality show called Instant Dream House on Netflix and you see her being herself. She is kind and generous in spirit. She has a great energy and someone I would like to know.
JN: What are you working on next?
SJB: I have Stages Podcast that streams on iHeartRadio. We are going into our fourth season next year. We have over 80 interviews.
The beauty of it is that, much like tonight, I will prepare things, but conversations go in places that I never expected. People sit down like we are having coffee. The way people have trusted me and opened up to me has been beautiful.
I would list off names but there are so many, from Jason Alexander to James Lapine. It goes on and on. It is not only actors, it is anybody in the creative realm who goes through the different stages of life using an artistic lens. We talk about the ups and downs of the stage of their lives.
JN: Congrats on your award!
SJB: Thank you so much.
Visit sarahsiddonssociety.org to donate to this important organization that honors talented artists such as Block and funds scholarships to deserving theater students.