The anniversary of an opening night or first preview are typical causes for Broadway celebration. Alexandra Silber, Samantha Massell, and Melanie Moore, however, prefer to celebrate the day lyricist Sheldon Harnick officially decreed them sisters.
They've been playing Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava (Tevye's three eldest daughters in Fiddler on the Roof') for the entirety of the show's year-long run and still look back on "that magical day" when three complete strangers got the call that they were cast in the iconic musical's latest Broadway revival.
"We were standing out in the hall thinking, 'If we don't get to do this together, we're gonna die,'" said Silber, remembering their first day together at final callbacks. "It's now not about me getting this gig. It's about doing it with them."
With the show's final performance set for New Year's Eve, Silber, Massell, and Moore are closing out 2016 with a final word as Fiddler's indelible trio. Spoken entirely in their highly developed secret sister language, the ladies cuddled in the balcony of the Broadway Theatre for their last interview as the sisters of Anatevka.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say/sing?
Samantha Massell: "Playing with matches a girl can get burned."
Alexandra Silber: "Even a poor tailor is entitled to some happiness." Which Motel then says again. I've always liked that his big brave moment originated in something she inspired.
Melanie Moore: I have a lot of succinct lines. That's hard. [There's] a line that's not hers [pointing to Silber] that she had to say one night, which is, "You work it with your hand and your foot."
Silber: I'm sure there's going to be a question about the biggest mishap, right?
2. That brings us to our next question! Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
Moore: That would be Adam [Kantor]. He was the biggest technical difficulty.
Silber: There's this scene where Motel the tailor [played by Kantor] finally gets the sewing machine. The entire scene is run by his character, so no one onstage can help. He has all the lines and we just respond. One night Adam is in his dressing room and—
Moore: He turned the monitor off during intermission.
Silber: Right, and he just forgot and he didn't come onstage. Luckily I've done eight-thousand productions of Fiddler. I just go, "We got it! Is the rabbi here? Motel told me that you work it with your hand and your foot!"
Moore: Literally Al sits down in her pregnancy costume…and starts the machine. I was baffled. It was one of my favorite things that ever happened.
Silber: I was like, "Oh my God I feel like I'm Sully. I landed this plane."
3. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
Moore: Sometimes things happen and we're like, "Oh man, that was doo-doo."
Massell: The light was bad: "That light was doo-doo."
Silber: "I sound doo-doo."
Moore: So then we started calling "Doo-doo" a person. Like, "Doo-doo was in the audience tonight." When I've tripped onstage: "Ooooh, Melanie has Doo-doo today."
Silber: Doo-doo has a background in dance.
4. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
Silber: I have to say Angela Lansbury.
Moore: You're going to cry as you say this.
Silber: I might. OK, required information is that Angela Lansbury is my only idol. I say it with no shame at all, but it's an obsession. It's not cute. I've named my cat after her. So over the loud speaker, our stage manager after one of our previews goes, "Al Silber, there is a VERY SPECIAL guest for you backstage." And I'm thinking, "Is it the Pope?"
Moore: Yeah, the Pope is here.
Silber: Everybody was gone and I was like, "Where did everybody go?"
Massell: We were all watching.
Silber: So I come backstage — and I looked so doo-doo — and I see the little white head and I was like, "THIS IS THE MOMENT!" In my head I think my internal monologue was, "Don't tell her about your cat. Don't tell her about your cat." Thank God I kept it together and was able to say, "Thank you for being my inspiration and my only idol." And she was so kind and all my friends filmed it and took photos and I managed to not die. But now I can die.
5. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
Massell: This is their masterpiece [pointing to Silber and Moore]. I have the last thirty-five minutes of the show upstairs. I guess these two are just gallivanting around downstairs. One night after the show I come up and [our stage manager] Bill makes an announcement over the loud speaker: "Samantha Massell, you have a doo-doo waiting for you at the stage door."
Silber: He takes his job really seriously.
Moore: I was like, "Bill, I have a really, really special request."
Massell: It's always so funny when they're like, "Danny Burstein, Hal Prince is on his way to your dressing room…Samantha Massell, your food delivery is here."
Moore: Also, your doo-doo is here.
6. If the three of you had to take over the roles of your suitors (Motel, Perchik, and Fyedka), who would be whom?
Silber: I'd be Fyedka because I'm so bookish.
Moore: I could see that. Although, do we think I would be a Motel?
Massell: No one wants to be Motel.
Silber: I would just say, if you were Motel, you totally would have made it to that [sewing machine] scene.
Moore: You're right. I'll take it for the team. He has a nice little song. And I can do the cartwheel.
Massell: But if you're really anybody, it's Yussel the hatmaker.
7. What was your first true moment of sisterly bonding?
Silber: Our final callback! It's our favorite story!
[The girls negotiate a system wherein they take turns telling the story one sentence at a time. The system quickly breaks down.]
Massell: After the callback we had a mix-and-match session…
Silber: …in which we were surprised that there were not more people there.
Moore: We were all paired together in the same room for all of the creatives…
Silber: …and we were socializing and bonding outside the room before we even sang.
Massell: Melanie and I sang "Matchmaker" once with someone else and then we sang "Matchmaker" again with Al…
Silber: …in perfect harmony.
Massell: And then Sheldon Harnick said, "That's it, send 'em on the road!"
8. What happens to your characters after they leave Anatevka?
Silber: In the Sholom Aleichem stories, Motel catches tuberculosis and dies.
Massell: No wonder nobody wanted to be Motel.
Moore: Thanks, guys.
Silber: In my version of what happens though — and this did happen to a lot of people that moved to Poland — because he has a sewing machine he probably does very well. Their family is growing, their business is doing really well, and I just think that they never quite make it to America and they get stuck in Poland. I don't think it ends well for them.
Massell: I think it's unfortunately safe to say that all of these girls don't make it out of Europe.
Moore: Although I would say that now technically Chava is a Christian and would help people get out. I feel like she wouldn't allow that to happen to people if she could have anything to do about it.
9. To riff off of Tevye's big number, if you were a rich (wo)man, what would you do all day long (other than biddy-biddy-bum)?
Silber: I would just read. I'd be like, "Ahh, this is finally how I get to finish all of Tolstoy." If I had the money I would save Detroit, my hometown.
Massell: I would donate to animal shelters. And buy an apartment with a lot of outdoor space.
Moore: I really believe in funding arts education in schools. I think I would try and give a lot of money to that. People have valid concerns with our test scores and why we're not excelling in math and science but at the same time, some people aren't meant to be scientists or mathematicians and it doesn't make you stupid. I think nourishing other kinds of people who are smart for other things is a way to give back to the community. It's important to have art on the planet.
10. Last question of your time together as the Fiddler sisters: Each of you is a very different performer, so what have you learned from each other over the past year?
Moore: I learned how to act through song from this one over here [pointing to Massell]. Just about finding the right place in your voice and allowing it to come out. And I learned how to not be afraid to make a bold choice and have it be so honest from this one [pointing to Silber]. Let's see you top that, Al!
Silber: I think — and I own this — that I have a tendency to be a little serious, especially about what I do. I think I learned from both of you when being serious is totally appropriate and when it's good and healthy to have a laugh. I think if I hadn't learned that this year I probably would have perished. I personally had a really tough year and I got through it not because we talked about the hard stuff but because you kept me laughing.
Massell: I think I learned from Melanie to always stay joyful. Because what we do is really hard and it's exhausting and there are times when you just don't have it and you just have to find joy and do it. And Shmelanie [sic] — that's her natural state of being.
Silber: She's our ray of sunshine. With the cutest nose on Broadway.
Massell: I think from Al — and this is also from Melanie, but especially from Al, sharing a dressing room for the past year — I think I've delved into the deepest vulnerability of sisterhood in a way that completely informed our work onstage. So I think from both of these girls it's a lot of "find the joy" and also what it really means to be a sister.
Silber: And on that note…
- Angela Lansbury
- Danny Burstein
- Sheldon Harnick
- Alexandra Silber
- Broadway Theatre
- Hal Prince
- Fiddler on the Roof
- Samantha Massell
- Melanie Moore
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