When Alexandra Silber landed the role of Hodel in “Fiddler on The Roof” on London’s West End, her signature scene posed a tremendous challenge. The soprano had no trouble hitting the notes of “Far From The Home I Love,” where the character expresses the pain of knowing she will likely never see her father again as she moves many miles away. It was her own experience of losing her father when she was 18 and moving from Detroit to Glasgow that hit her.
“It was like ripping my skin off, it was so visceral and painful and yet necessary,” Silber said by phone. “I think I sort of tabled the experience of grieving, then I was ready to face the experience through Hodel.”
The 35 year-old Grammy nominee, who starred as Tzeitel in the Broadway revival of “Fiddler” from 2015-2016, penned “After Anatevka,” (Pegasus Books) a novel inspired by the musical. The book answers the question of what became of Hodel and Perchik’s romance when she went to find him in jail. Silber will be joined by other actors for a special live performance and reading at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village this Monday night.
It’s clear Silber is not fiddling around. In addition to her debut novel, the actress also released her memoir, “White Hot Grief Parade” (Pegasus Books) last month.
In both works, Silber brilliantly balances the whimsical idealism of joy and affection that encourage us to be human with the harsh horrors of life that threaten to make us bitter. In “After Anatevka” she not only includes an impressive backstory of the characters, she courageously refuses to bow to sentimentality, opting for a rugged tale that includes floors with vermin, and a prison guard with one thing on his mind, while still illuminating Hodel and Perchik’s love for each other.
“Everyone wants them to live happily ever after,” Silber said. “My response is ‘When do you think this story is taking place?’ Perchik’s not being arrested for petty crimes here or being sent to a minimum security prison in Switzerland.”
And in her memoir she shows an enormous degree of honesty and vulnerability while relating the impact watching her father suffer through cancer had on her. Her vivid imagery and specificity will make you cry if you have eyes. She recalls her father’s last moments with her, squeezing her hand with Herculean strength.
She also writes about coping with the aftermath of his death and how she confronted the intense grief. “We will all experience the loss of someone we care about we will all have to navigate that valley,” Silber said. “Pretending that isn’t part of the human experience is not going to prevent it from happening. We have this real hole in our social dialogue about grief and about icky things. I felt that by sharing my specific story, I might connect deeply with an unknown reader as well as others.”
Born to a Jewish father and Christian mother (they met on during a flight!) Silber didn’t go to synagogue or church. In a harsh and raw moment from her memoir describing the rabbi’s decision to have Silber eulogize her father, her maternal grandmother lambasts her as a shiksa who doesn’t know her father well enough to speak.
“To be fair, this woman just lost her son and I was threatening her version of her son’s legacy,” Silber said. “She behaved poorly and said something hurtful. But I would also not want to be judged for my behavior on the worst day of my life.”
Silber said she identifies as a Jewish woman, being in “Fiddler” was like going to “Judaism university” and her faith resonates with her.
As for her motivation, she said her parents support and encouragement helped her actualize her dream to become an artist.
“I felt like I owed it to them,” she said.
It appears she’s paid them back.
In 2015, she was nominated for the Grammy Award For Best Musical Theater Album for a recording of “West Side Story” in which she performed as Maria. A year earlier, she earned an Outer Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance in “Arlington.” The graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland was discovered when a voice and theater instructor heard her sing and recommended her to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s casting director for “Women in White.” She got that role and has since performed at Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall and live on the Grammy Awards.
She said she doesn’t take performing for granted and still get a little nervous before shows. Her advice to the aspiring artists? Less talk and more action.
“One of the things that stops people from creating daily is they feel they need a permission slip to do it,” she said. “I didn’t wait around for my non-existent master’s degree in creative writing. I just started writing.”
Will she turn “After Anatveka” into a musical? Anything is possible, she said, but it may be more suited for a TV series.
Though she laments that she cannot get her father’s blessing for marriage like her characters Hodel and Tzeitel did, she feels that she got his blessing when he took her to “Ragtime,” her first Broadway show. She writes that his eyes told her then that she would tell stories on Broadway stages for years to come. She reminisces how he got to see her perform on stage at in Michigan and knows he would be proud of what she’s done.
“I think he’d be excited,” she said. “I think his face would have looked very much as it did in the audience of my high school musical. I’m much the same person I was when he knew me still.”