No creative work by or about Jews has won the hearts of Americans as thoroughly as “Fiddler on the Roof.” The original 1964 Broadway production of the musical, based on the stories written by Sholem Aleichem in 1894, ran for a then-unprecedented 3,242 performances and earned nine Tony Awards.
Fifty years after the show’s premiere, Alexandra Silber starred as Tevye’s oldest daughter Tzeitel in the fifth Broadway revival of "Fiddler."
What happened to Hodel, the family’s second-eldest daughter, is the subject of Silber’s book “After Anatevka” (Pegasus Publishing), which will be the focus of her keynote presentation at the 19th annual Mandel JCC Cleveland Book Festival.
The last time we see Hodel on stage, she is waiting with her father for the train that will take her to Siberia to join her Socialist-leaning fiancé, Perchick. But when we catch up to her in this novel, we learn of the extraordinary hurdles – both personal and political – that attempt to keep them apart.
“Ms. Silber has employed her formidable intelligence, her lively imagination, [and] her poetic sensibility to create ‘After Anatevka’,” writes “Fiddler” lyricist Sheldon Harnick in the book’s Forward. The result, he continues, “is a powerful and gripping tale of love, loyalty, bravery, and endurance.”
But why focus on Hodel and not Tzeitel?
“I played Hodel in the 2007 revival of ‘Fiddler’ in London’s West End,” explains Silber by phone from New York City, “after I had recently lost my own father to cancer. Every day for two years, I spoke Hodel's final words ‘Papa, God alone knows when we shall see each other again….” Each time as Hodel said goodbye, so did I. She then boards a train and we never hear from her again. I needed to know what happened to her.”
Silber was born in Los Angeles and grew up just outside of Detroit, where there was always a Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook on the coffee table and impromptu games of musical theater “Jeopardy” were often played.
When she was 14 years old, she took a trip to see the musical “Ragtime” in New York, after which she met Tony Award-winner Judy Kaye, who predicted that the young Silber would end up on Broadway someday.
After attending Interlochen Center for the Arts during High School, Silber continued her training as an actor at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. She graduated just days before her professional debut in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Woman in White” in London’s West End. She made her Broadway debut in 2011 in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class.”
For her keynote presentation, Silber and her musical director Ben Moss have created a 75 minute program where she will read from select chapters of the book, discuss the process of creating its characters, and incorporate songs from “Fiddler” – including Hodel’s “Far From the Home I Love” – as well as original works by Broadway composers.
“We are offering an utterly original theatrical event: a musicalized book reading,” says the author/actress.
While “After Anatevka” follows Hovel’s arduous journey, those interested in Silber’s own story should look for her just-released memoir “White Hot Grief Parade” (Pegasus Publishing).