For many actors, seeing their first Broadway show was a pivotal experience that informed everything in their lives from that moment forward. We asked some of this season’s Tony nominees when they first sat in the audience of a Broadway show and realized: I’m going to be up there someday.
Stephanie J. Block
Then: Saw Crazy For You, The Who’s Tommy and Kiss of the Spider Woman
Now: Nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for The Cher Show
“When I was 20, I visited New York to audition for the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. At the time I was living in California and playing Belle at Disneyland, where Robert Jess Roth and Matt West were developing the show. After several auditions, they flew me out to New York for the final callbacks. That weekend, I treated myself to performances of Crazy for You, The Who's Tommy and Kiss of the Spider Woman, starring Chita Rivera. Those three remarkably different shows changed who I was and how I saw theater. The vision of Chita in her white tuxedo and fedora will never leave me. In Crazy for You, I remember Susan Stroman's choreography in the ‘Slap That Bass’ number. The women actually became the bass. I was so high up in the back row watching Tommy. Having the bird’s-eye view, I could see technical aspects, like trap doors opening and how set pieces moved. It still gives me chills. It filled me in a way I could have never expected. I made up my mind that somehow I was going to get myself to New York City, make a living and be part of the Broadway community.
“I didn’t get the part. But my dreams were big. I worked my ass off in California doing regional theater. I knew exactly where I wanted to be. Then, before it went to Broadway, I was in the original company of Wicked. I was a standby for Idina Menzel as Elphaba. When we were getting ready to try out the show in San Francisco, my agent asked, ‘Would you like to go on this audition to play Liza Minnelli?’ So my Broadway debut was opposite Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz.”
Then: Saw Jekyll and Hyde
Now: Nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Tootsie
“I grew up in New Hampshire, so we would go to Boston and see road shows. I remember seeing Les Miz when I was in the sixth grade and being on the edge of my seat. I nearly stopped breathing, so much that I got horrible leg cramps. I remember looking at all those people on stage and thinking, Maybe I could do that. I got to New York late, just before 2000. By that point I was out of high school. The first show I saw on Broadway was Jekyll and Hyde. I’ll never forget the feeling. I walked into the theater with a giant group of strangers. There was all this buzz, energy and sound. The lights went down and I got goosebumps all over. The audience collectively took a giant breath in anticipation. I thought, Amazing humans are going to come out and entertain me—right in front of my face. That same feeling is still with me today when I see a Broadway show.”
Then: Saw Crazy for You
Now: Nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Burn This
“My first vivid memory seeing theater on Broadway was the show Crazy for You. At the time I was around 8 years old and living in West Orange, New Jersey. I knew I wanted to do theater and was terrible at sports. My parents put me in this extracurricular theater program at Performers Theatre Workshop. During Crazy for You, a car came on stage and I thought, How do they get a car on stage? It was a clown car, with all these showgirls coming out of it. I couldn't wrap my mind around what was happening. To see all of the stuff that I was just learning about, fully realized, in the most epic way, blew me away. It was insane.”
Then: Saw Les Misérables
Now: Nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play for To Kill a Mockingbird
“My brother was up for a part in Les Misérables. So my family got to come to New York from where we lived in Detroit and see Les Miz on Broadway. I had already seen it five times on national tour. I loved the show so much. I wore the Les Miz sweatshirt everywhere. But seeing the show on Broadway was particularly special. I knew the music; this was the Broadway that I dreamed about and watched on Great Performances. To actually be in an audience with other living, breathing people gave me a visceral feeling of joy. And then I got to be in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables [as Éponine, from 2006 to 2007], which was so amazing.”
Then: Saw Cabaret
Now: Nominated for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for Oklahoma!
“The summer when I was 14, I would take the ferry to Manhattan from New Jersey and volunteer as an usher at Studio 54 just to watch Cabaret. You could show up, get a sticker, help people to their seats and then sit and watch from the stairs. I don’t know if they allow people to do that anymore, but it became my summer habit. I went nearly every weekend and saw Cabaret probably a dozen times. I loved Alan Cumming and how exposed he was playing the Emcee. I was a very emotional teen; the show put me in such a different headspace and made me want to play these parts. The beautiful waltz ‘I Don’t Care Much’ was my anthem. From there, I started doing musicals in my hometown. Then in 2010, I made my Broadway debut with the show Brief Encounter—which was at the same theater, Studio 54, where I’d ushered all those years before.”