Stephanie J. Block's dressing room at the Neil Simon Theatre has housed some top-notch talent within its hallowed walls, the likes of which include Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, and most recently, Nathan Lane (who took home the Tony for his performance in "Angels in America"). While it has quite the pedigree, Block is no stranger to the spotlight, having built a career playing fan favorite roles and literal living icons. The latest, of course, is Cher, in Broadway musical "The Cher Show," which spans six decades of hits and requires no less than three actors to portray the titular diva at different points of her career and life.
In previews as of November 1, Block takes the stage as "The Star," the Cher whose career is established.
"After I played Liza Minelli [in The Boy From Oz], I swore I would never play another living icon ever again," she says. "But somehow the intrigue of who Cher is... I really wanted to step into her shoes."
To put on those sky-high heels, Block needed a space that was as fabulous as her character. She worked with designer Mike Harrison to transform the small space into something spectacular.
"All I gave him to work with was that I want it to feel like 'collecting seashells in Morocco,'" Block tells Apartment Therapy, pointing out a few of her favorite items, like the shag rug and cozy chair at her makeup table.
We asked Harrison a few questions about the transformation, the challenges of working in theaters, and how dressing room design can translate into any small space. [Interview has been edited and condensed.]
Apartment Therapy: Making over dressing rooms has become your niche. What are the unique challenges of designing for these specific spaces?
Mike Harrison: There are zero renovations involved. The most you are physically allowed to do is paint. You've got to work with what you've got which I love, and it makes it super creative.
AT: You've done 60 dressing rooms in three years—how do they differ?
MH: My first question is always, ''How do you need the room to serve you?'' And the answers are so different. Sometimes people have been like, "I want it to actually have a little bit of maybe the character in it so I can get into character easier and almost get into that world pretty quickly." Other people have been like, "I want there to be zero of the show in there. I want to be able to shut the door and feel like I'm not even in the interior." Or, "I want it to be this zen place to really nap. I just want it to be a very quiet place." Or, "I want it to be a place that after the show, I entertain, and we all have drinks."
AT: How do you take something that ephemeral (like "hunting for seashells in Morocco") and turn it into a physical space?
MH: Since I didn't study design (I went to school for music), I do not speak in design terms at all. What I always say is "Describe in five words the way you want it to feel.'' We met and sat and had a cup of coffee. That's my consultation. We don't talk about colors. We just talk about the feeling. There was a nod to Cher's Malibu home, but she didn't want it to be a full shrine to Cher—I was going infuse both Stephanie and Cher in the room. I immediately knew we're going to take three different things and meld them together, because it was Mediterranean, it was Moroccan, and it was Bohemian. How can I capture all of these worlds but not make it seem like a themed room, which I hate, and bring you in the room as well? It's a small space, so you've got to smartly use every square inch of it.
AT: What are your favorite pieces in Stephanie's dressing room?
MH: Those two little tables. Talking about a dressing room dream—they are built as stools, so if more people come backstage, you literally can sit on them, and they can support people. I was walking by a craft fair on lunch break from another install, and saw them from a Brooklyn-based couple. They were light, they were airy, they had the little Moroccan details, but also could lean Mediterranean, and also boho, and they are the right scale and proportion.
AT: Where are your favorite places to source in general?
MH: I love a HomeGoods. I do a lot of thrift stores. Housing Works all over New York City is my favorite because the money goes to the charity. It's amazing. Target, let's be real. That's helped me out in a pinch a few times. What else? It's funny because I can only really shop in places that I can immediately take the item—I don't have six weeks. Sometimes it's literally three days. My big thing is, I love going to those places that you can be inspired by what you find instead of what you're looking for.
AT: What are your go-to tricks that can translate to studios or other small spaces?
MH: Studios are my absolute favorite thing to do. The before and after is always incredible. The number one thing I would say is, even if it is a rental, there's such an importance in making it your own. Don't think, ''Just because I'm renting it, I shouldn't invest in it.'' No matter what you're going through, your room should reflect what you need. I always look at it as though it's the same with wardrobes. You would not, in the middle of summer, wear a winter coat and three sweaters. You just wouldn't do it. You would change what you're wearing which, to me, is the same with design. Meaning, yes, you can keep your couch the same, but switch out the pillows.
With rentals, a lot of people don't want to paint because they have to paint it back and that's annoying, so my big trick is to paint behind the couch. This literally cost $20 to do. If you were to behind the couch, six inches to the left of the couch and six inches to the right of the couch, tape that off and make one giant square and then just paint that square. Then, you can put artwork on it, it makes everything pop. It makes the room seat taller. It is $20. It takes 30 minutes. You can see it in so many of my before and afters. People go, "Oh my God, this room seems so much taller." In order to put it back to what it was, it's really not that much, but it makes a huge difference.
Thank you, Stephanie and Mike!