Disney dreams -- and Broadway stardom -- do come true ... eventually


By Mike Hughes

The world, we're
told, is full of little girls with Disney dreams.

A few do star in
Disneyland, then retreat to non-glitter lives. One eventually
conquered Broadway.

That's Stephanie J.
Block, who stars Friday in the “Falsettos” musical on PBS. It
includes her “Breaking Down” number, with enough big moments to
make Carol Burnett or Jim Carrey envious.

“I just kept
adding and adding,” Block recalled. “And (director James Lapine)
never kept cutting and cutting .... It became four minutes and 36
seconds of circus.”

She got the role
only because Lapine rejected previous people who wanted to produce
the show. “They wanted a big star,” he said. “Which,
unfortunately, is what drives a lot of commercial theater.”

Hey, Block knows all
about that. She spent years in a lead role when “Wicked” was
being developed. Then the show went to Broadway and she didn't get
the role.

“'Wicked' was a
tough sting,” Block said. “I won't even mince words. Yeah, I
invested about two years in creating Elphaba, with Winnie Holzman and
Stephen Schwartz.”

But it was a
mega-show and she had no Broadway experience; Idina Menzel – fresh
from “Rent” and “Aida” -- got the role. “When she's
standing up there with a Tony ... I got drunk. That stuff happens.”

Block did the role
on tour, changing her life: “I met my husband (Sebastian Arcelus),
we bought an apartment, I have a child .... She got the Tony, I got
the Sebastian and it all worked out fine.”

Don't assume she
takes a let-it-be attitude. Those Disney duties didn't come easily.
“My mother forged my birth certificate, so I could be in the
Disneyland parade,” Block said.

That didn't turn out
the ways she'd expected: “I thought I'd be a princess, because my
sister was always cast as a princess. I became one of the three
little pigs .... I'm not legally supposed to be working, let alone
wearing this 30-pound head, Then I took a break; that really jaded me
a bit.”

But as someone born
and raised in Southern California, she wasn't ready to abandon her
Disney dreams. At 18, she wanted to star as Belle in Disneyland's
first “Beauty and the Beast” stage show.

“They were keeping
these really doe-eyed, blonde-haired (beauties) for their Disney
princess,” she said. “And I was like, 'That's not Belle. I'm
Belle. You know: I read a lot; I've got dark hair.'”

She was sent home,
then resisted. “I turned my little car right around and I just sat
in a chair and said, 'Well, if you have time, I'd love to sing for
you.' They'd come out and they're like, 'She's still there.'”

She got the job. “It
felt like I had conquered the world at 18,” making $127 for six
shows.

That was followed by
a decade of regional theater and commercials and the “Wicked”
close call. She reached Broadway at 31, playing Liza Minnelli in “The
Boy From Oz.” Eventually, there would be lots of off-Broadway
praise, plus Tony nominations for “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”
and “Falsettos.”

The latter started
when William Finn wrote the music and lyrics for a one-act show about
a woman, her son and three men – her ex-husband, his lover and the
therapist who becomes her husband. Lapine is listed as writing the
book, although there are few words. “He made sense of the
material,” Finn said.

Almost a decade
later, Finn had a dream about the characters “having the Bar
Mitzvah in the hospital room” during the early days of the AIDS
crisis. That became the second act.

“Falsettos”
would reach Broadway in 1992, winning Tonys for its book and score.
It returned briefly a year ago, getting nominations for most of its
no-big-name cast.

-- “Falsettos,”
9 p.m. Friday, PBS, under the “Live From Lincoln Center” banner

-- Part of a
Broadway-on-Fridays string that started a week earlier with “She
Loves Me.” Coming are Noel Coward's “Present Laughter” on Nov.
3, a rerun on the making of Lin-Manuel Miranda's “In the Heights”
on Nov . 10, “Indecent,” Nov . 17 and Irving Berlin's “Holiday
Inn,” Nov. 24.