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Praising Her Voice

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It didn’t take long for Stephanie J. Block to show off her pipes. At 3, when most kids are just learning to string together complete sentences, Block entertained her family by singing TV commercials in the living room.

“It kind of scared my parents, mainly because I was singing so on-pitch,” Block recalled. “It was like I was the one on TV doing the commercial. I’d belt it, I mean I’d really be selling it.”

For the record:
12:00 AM, Feb. 21, 1997 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday February 21, 1997 Orange County Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Actress’ role--A story Tuesday about singer and actress Stephanie Block incorrectly identified the role she played on the ABC-TV series “Life Goes On.” Block played the character of Sarah. Additionally, the story incorrectly characterized the show’s life span. It ran from 1989-1993 on ABC.

At 24, Block is still belting it, but now it’s to a larger audience. The longtime Brea resident is starring as Polly in “Crazy for You” at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. The show, bright with such memorable Gershwin tunes as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “I Got Rhythm,” has received fine reviews, with Block invariably singled out.

A Times reviewer wrote: “When Stephanie Block wraps her voice around the gorgeous Gershwin songs . . . you wish she’d go on singing forever.”

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Singing forever? Makes sense to Block, who went from those impromptu living-room recitals to one-child shows for family friends just a year or two later. Mom and Dad’s pals would drop by, and Block would sing whatever tune came into her head.

“Sure, I’d sing for everybody at any time,” she said. “I’d even put my little bank out there. Everybody was a giver, I mean, how could they resist a cute little girl?”

Her singing headed in a more substantial direction when, at 7, she was asked to lead her church congregation in song during special services. A few solos led to “much applause and pats on the back.”

“I knew then that this was something I could get into,” Block said with a laugh.

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It took four years to get her first big professional gig, as one of the ensemble singers on the Quincy Jones-produced “We Are the World by the Children of the World” album--a companion to the all-star “We Are the World” famine-relief project--which featured, among others, Janet Jackson.

About the same time, Block also began studying with vocal teacher Jill Grande-Goodsell at her Yorba Linda studio. An important step, but one that started awkwardly.

Block liked to let her strong voice work a tune without much of a nod to subtlety, something Grande-Goodsell wanted to change.

“I was known as a belter, which she said was fine if I wanted to play ‘Annie’ for the next several years,” Block remembered. “I was strong but had a limited range. She wanted to take what I had and make it better.

“Well, there were a couple of years where we didn’t get along. I really thought she was trying to ruin my voice. But then I learned it was a healthy instrument and she could improve it.”

Block performed in a few small Orange County productions and went on to appear in “Babes” at the Los Angeles Theater of the Arts and “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Long Beach Center Theater and was part of a national tour of “Godspell” in 1995.

Locally, she may be best known for starring as the first Belle in the “Beauty and the Beast” stage show at Disneyland. She originated the role at the park in 1991 and performed it regularly for more than two years.

Block has also enjoyed some TV time. She had a recurring part in the short-lived ABC drama “Life Goes On” as Bekka, the best friend of one of the main high school-age characters. The series’ star, Patti LuPone, inspired and surprised the young actress.

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“I admired her talent so much [and] what she’d done with her career,” Block said, “but she was a pill, just difficult to work with. She was arrogant [and] did what she thought she had to as a strong woman.”

As for “Crazy for You,” Block said that Polly, the musical’s female lead, wasn’t the part she first auditioned for. Block was set on the vampy Irene, a juicy but smaller part. She thought Irene could offer some fun possibilities and wouldn’t require as much dancing as Polly.

“Singing is really my strength, and I just felt it would be safest if I went for Irene,” Block said. “But [the producers] said I was too likable, too sweet, and asked me to do Polly. It worked out [because] Polly is really more reflective of my personality.”

Block’s dancing apparently is satisfying most audiences, but it’s her handling of the songs that’s getting the job done. Her favorite tunes? Block finally settled on “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “I’ve Got Rhythm.”

“They are really two sides of the spectrum. ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ is a beautiful ballad, and ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ is more on the fun side. It’s a pleasure doing them.”

* “Crazy for You” continues at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. Tonight through Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Ends Sunday.. $33. (714) 994-6310 or (310) 944-9801.


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