For Stephanie J. Block, it began in Branson. New to show biz, Block was performing at one of the Missouri mecca’s many theaters when a fellow cast member introduced her to the music of William Finn. “It was ‘Holding to the Ground,’” Block remembered after a rehearsal this week – a number sung by Trina, the role Block plays in the LCT revival of Falsettos. “It was an incredible song,” Block said. “I rushed out and got CDs of March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland."
Block, who grew up in California, revealed that the shows’ music didn’t entirely sink in at first. “It took my brain a couple of listens before they hit home. There’s a lot that I missed.” Years later, she grasped more of the works’ riches. Referring to Finn by his nickname, she said, “One of the beauties of Bill’s score is that you think you know where it’s going and then he takes you somewhere else.” She added: “This quality speaks to his gifts as an artist.”
Integral to this Falsettos experience is being in the room with Finn and with James Lapine, who co-wrote the book and who directs. “These guys know each other and these characters extraordinarily well,” Block said, “and I’m lucky to be working with them all.” It’s not her first trip down the Finn-Lapine Highway. In 2013, she took the journey, in a yellow VW van, with the pair’s Little Miss Sunshine musical. “It was one of the first times I played a mother,” Block said, “and it helped prepare me to play Trina.”
Becoming a mother in real life – Block and her husband, the actor Sebastian Arcelus, have a 19-month-old daughter, Vivienne – has also affected her approach to her work. “Every lyric now sounds different,” Block said, “and so does how I visualize things. My eyes well up in places where they never did before.”
Musically, Trina was tailored to her original interpreter, Alison Fraser. “She has an amazing ping and brightness to her voice,” Block said. “I have a thicker sound.” That thick, lovely quality has served Block well throughout her career: she has played Elphaba in Wicked, the title role in The Pirate Queen, and the title role again in the 2012 Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, for which she received a Tony nomination. Trina demands a combination of big and small. “There’s a lot of nuance,” Block said, “and also the opportunity, in a song like ‘I’m Breaking Down,’ to do what’s known in the business as ‘park and bark.’”
Block believes that Falsettos is “not a period piece. It’s still vital today. It may take place in the 1980s, when there was a lot of unfathomable loss from AIDS. But we have an entire act to get to know the characters before the tragedy hits. Which makes it even sadder, and more resonant.” She added: “I think audiences of all ages, whatever their personal relationship to the era, will be touched by the humanity of the show.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.