BY NAVEEN KUMAR
Broadway leading lady Stephanie J. Block currently stars as the title character in Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Rupert Holmes’ acclaimed 1985 musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, directed by Scott Ellis. The company, which includes Broadway veterans Chita Rivera, Jim Norton and Will Chase, plays a troupe of actors in a Victorian music hall performing Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel of the same name. As Dickens died before he finished writing the mystery, Holmes’ engaging musical asks the audience each night to decide who-done-it.
Naveen Kumar: You wear a lot of different hats in this production, playing a male impersonator (Alice Nutting) taking on the title role of Edwin Drood and later on yet another man, himself in disguise. What’s it like for you as a performer switching between so many different layers of character and disguise?
Stephanie J. Block: You know when I first took the part I was actually a little worried, I thought that perhaps the audience wasn’t going to be able to connect with any of these characters because I was constantly shape shifting. Especially in a play where the actors are able to break the fourth wall, interaction with the audience is so important. I thought, I’m never really going to get my footing and therefore the audience is never going to get their footing as to who these characters are. But I was very wrong.
Somehow, the way Rupert Holmes has constructed this play, the audience engages really quickly with these music hall performers, and I think it’s very much because at the top of the show when we’re mingling around the audience, we’re literally sitting in the seat next to them and chatting them up. Some of it’s fictitious, but sometimes we’re talking about the outfit they’re wearing or the day they had. So they feel like they’re watching friends up there on the stage, people that they actually know.
So it’s switched from me feeling like ‘Uh oh, how’s this going to work?’ to this really great fun because I don’t have to stay in one character the entire play. I get to flop around, play around, and try new things and somehow it’s completely welcomed and the audience greatly loves it. So, I feel great about it now, but I’d be lying to you if in the beginning I didn’t admit that I was like ‘Uh oh, this could be a big problem for me as an actor as well as a character.’
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