Tony Awards spotlight: Stephanie J. Block brings down the house in ‘Falsettos’

Stephanie J. Block, one of Broadway’s top belting divas, has repeatedly missed her date with the Tony Awards despite a celebrated career. Her first, and so far only, Tony nomination came in 2012 for the revival of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” She was nominated for her leading role in this tuner but lost to Patina Miller from “Pippin.” This year could prove more fortuitous for the singing actress.

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Block has tackled several Tony-worthy roles, such as a spot on Liza Minnelli in “The Boy from Oz” and Judy in “9 to 5.” Neither resulted in a nomination. She even created the role of Elphaba in “Wicked” during initial readings, but was replaced by Idina Menzel for the Broadway production. Then she had to watch as Menzel accepted a Tony award.

But this year, a revival of William Finn’sFalsettos” should change her Tony favors. Block portrayed Trina in the James Lapine helmed revival. The character discovers her husband Marvin (Christian Borle) is gay and must forge ahead in a bewildering new life that includes her husband’s lover Whizzer (Andrew Rannells) and her own psychiatrist-turned-boyfriend (Brandon Uranowitz). With themes of universal love and “family is what you make it,” the musical holds a special place in the hearts of many within theatre industry.

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The emotional and vocal complexity of Trina gives Block a great shot at a win for Featured Actress in a Musical (Barbara Walsh was nominated for the original production). Her show stopping number “I’m Breaking Down” will be remembered as one of the defining moments of the 2016-2017 Broadway season. It plays to all of Block’s strengths as an actress, allowing her a chance to showcase absurd physical comedy and deep pathos while belting to the rafters. You don’t have to take my word for it either. Just listen to these top critics fawn over her dynamite performance:

Charles Isherwood (NY Times): “‘Falsettos’ …is a hard show to stop, so antic and frantic are the characters as they ricochet through their complicated lives. But Ms. Block, better here than ever, just about does it in ‘I’m Breaking Down,’ a raging aria of angst that becomes a virtual nervous collapse in song, and a deliriously funny-sad high point.

Christopher Kelly (NJ.com): There are a handful of take-your-breath-away numbers in the new revival of the musical “Falsettos,” …but none quite so impressive as “I’m Breaking Down,” a comic wail of despair sung by Stephanie J. Block. Playing Trina, whose husband Marvin has just left her for a man with the curious name of Whizzer, Block manages to draw out both the comedy and anguish of this woman’s unusual plight — sung all the while she’s ostensibly making dinner. (‘Let me turn on the gas / I saw them in the den / with Marvin grabbing Whizzer’s ass.’) Block sends the show to such dizzying heights that it takes the audience a few minutes to recover.

Adam Feldman (TimeOut New York): It is Trina who comes off most sympathetically, and Block brings down the house with a bravura comic performance of “I’m Breaking Down,” a neurotic implosion set to music that evokes a carnival striptease. (It ends with her waving a butcher’s knife and belting a high note with a piece of banana stuck in her mouth.)

With these stellar notices and industry love for Block herself, she should be guaranteed a nomination. The one nagging factor standing in her way of a win if the production’s limited run, which concluded back in January. In general, it is more difficult for performers to win for closed shows, since the ones still open are fresher in voters minds. But as Annaleigh Ashford showed the world with “You Can’t Take it With You,” it is possible to win if your show is closed. The performer just needs to be an industry favorite, in a beloved classic, with a tour de force performance. Block checks off all those boxes.

Predict the Tony Awards nominees now; change them until May 2

Be sure to make your Tony Awards predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our Tony odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on May 2. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums.

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