Miracle of Miracles: The Offstage Courtship of Fiddler on the Roof's Motel and Tzeitel
How Alexandra Silber and Adam Kantor's platonic showmance helps them get to the heart of one of Broadway's most beloved musicals.
"It was all magic on the first day. Do you remember?" Alexandra Silber, Tzeitel in Broadway's current revival of Fiddler on the Roof, asked her castmate Adam Kantor over a steaming bowl of borscht at New York City's Russian Samovar restaurant. "Of course," said a grinning Kantor, who plays her romantic interest, Motel. "Fireworks. Jewish Fireworks."
Despite having a host of friends in common, the pair of Broadway mainstays had managed not to be introduced before sitting down for their first read-through, and each was eager to meet their match. "One of the things that is similar about us is that we're both very arty actors," explained Silber. "I think we were both going, 'Who am I going to be building this incredibly important relationship with?'"
But when it came time for Motel and Tzeitel's first duet, "Miracle of Miracles," the actors' apprehensions evaporated like fog off the shtetl. "This is going to sound so lame," laughed Silber, "but I just felt like we fell into each other's eyes. It was instantly deep and connected and you could tell it was gonna be beautiful."
Having stumbled upon such a profound and immediate onstage connection, Silber and Kantor weren't about to squander their good fortune. The two began a real-life friendship that has served as a strong foundation for the flourishing marriage of Motel and Tzeitel Kamzoil.
Silber: Should we tell her about our dates? They're so cute!
Kantor: You want to tell her about the York?
Silber: Our first Kamzoil date…we wore our matching T-shirts to go see Sheldon Harnick's Rothschild and Sons at the York. And then we went to Eldridge Street—
Kantor: The synagogue on the Lower East Side, the Eldridge Street Synagogue. It's probably the most beautifully reconstructed synagogue I have ever been in…They were doing a night of klezmer music, so we went to Russ & Daughters before, which is a classic Jewish restaurant.
Silber: It's delicious.
Kantor: And then we went to hear klezmer in this gorgeous synagogue.
Silber: After Eldridge Street we took it up a notch and I cooked you dinner, do you remember? I was like, "I can cook too." I cooked some lamb in between shows one day.
"Do You Love Me?"
As Silber and Kantor's offstage friendship has grown stronger, they've had the chance to delve deeper into their onstage relationship. When it comes to their characters, the pair talks about everything, mining the musical for every ounce of information.
Silber: The thing that's so exciting about what we've found is that if the Motel-Tzeitel relationship is the heartbeat of the characters' motivations, which it is, then building that together makes all the difference…One of my favorite discussions we had was: "Are they in love in love?" And if so, have they declared it and when?
Kantor: The word love is almost foreign. You have love for God in this culture, but love for another human — it's sort of foreign.
Silber: I think the most important thing is that this is a long relationship. Unlike the other two relationships [in the show], they have known each other their whole lives. They've watched the other become themselves and they've probably shaped the other becoming themselves.
Kantor: I think what we have done, we've given each other a pledge, which is unheard of, and I think we are aware of how radical our behavior is but we are aware that the other [person] is worth it.
Silber: There's this thing in Numbers where it talks about what it means to pledge something to another person. It's incredibly specific that basically what we are doing is we are making a blood pact with The Lord, so when Tevye confronts us about it, he goes, you've made a blood pact with God behind my back, and now I'm on the hook for it.
When we get to the wedding, the unbelievable quiet but explosive joy that we got there, that we did it, is beyond explanation. And if there's any question about whether love might be there in the first part of the show, by the time we get to that wedding, it's surging through both of us.
Painting the Sunrise and Sunset
As a result of their revelations and deep conversations, Silber and Kantor have been responsible for some of the musical's most specific and touching details, particularly those that help map the arc of their onstage relationship.
Kantor: In rehearsal, Motel and Tzeitel/Adam and Al, can often be seen in the corner very excitedly talking about an idea or a moment and then we see [director] Bart Sher being like, "What's going on, what's the idea?"...But one of them that we really wanted to have was the yichud moment…in traditional orthodox weddings, the bride and groom have a private moment after the ceremony because theoretically they wouldn't have been able to touch before that.
Silber: We really, really wanted that because we thought, just to see the level of intimacy go from that of the heart and of language to the most delicate physicalization. The first time we did it, he does this thing where he unbuttons my sleeve and we had been in tech all day and we'd been all buttoned up the way these people had been their whole lives, when he did it and he kissed my wrist, I was like, "Oh my god." I mean, it was really unbelievably overwhelming.
Kantor: The point is they have their first intimate solo time because traditionally they weren't even supposed to have time one on one, necessarily.
Silber: One of [my ideas] was to have the pregnancy bump too. It all began [when] I was in London a couple weeks before starting rehearsals and I had to renew my visa because I'm a dual citizen now. And when I went to the home office, this was at the absolute height of the refugee crises…I'm in that line but it's flooded with refugees, flooded, flooded, flooded. It was incredibly emotionally overwhelming.
And one of the things that was so affective to me was there was one particular family who was being separated, some of them were going to be allowed to stay and some of them weren't, and there was a maybe eight-months-pregnant woman holding a baby, who was being separated from her parents. Her parents were going back to Syria and she was being allowed to stay with her baby and what I remember so specifically was the father kissing her belly…in my heart I go, no one in this family knows if that father is ever going to know that baby. I thought, "That's Motel and Tzeitel at the end of the play, I have to include that somehow"...So yeah, the Kamzoils have a lot of ideas, but they're all good.
Kantor: The little details are what we love…It's little stuff, who knows if anyone even notices.
I think we approach it from many angles. And over the course of the — knock on wood — long run of the show, we'll continue to discover and change and research. What's been nice is that I trust that Al will continually inspire new things.
Silber: How many dates would this be?
Kantor: Well, I don't know. There have been many, and now we're just—
Silber: Now we're going steady. It's a little more casual. And when we don't want to cook, we go for borscht.
Kantor: This is probably our fourth time borschting here. We usually get it to go.