Alexandra Silber, who made her Broadway debut opposite Tony and Emmy winner Tyne Daly in the Manhattan Theater Club revival of Terrence McNally's Master Class, can currently be seen Off-Broadway in the Vineyard Theatre's production of the new musical Arlington. Featuring book and lyrics by playwright and novelist Victor Lodato and music by Polly Pen, Arlington, which will officially open March 2, casts the up-and-coming singing actress as Sara Jane, a young wife who tries to remain hopeful while her husband is away at war, despite a growing concern that something is not quite right. Directed by Carolyn Cantor, the production also features Ben Moss ( Bunked, Spring Awakening) as Pianist. I recently posed a set of questions to Silber, whose theatrical credits also include the Off-Broadway revival of Hello Again and the West End productions of The Woman in White, Fiddler on the Roof and Carousel; her responses, via email, follow.
Where were you born and raised?
Alexandra Silber: Born in Los Angeles and raised outside Detroit, MI.
At what age did you start performing? (What is your earliest memory of standing on a stage?)
Silber: My first memory on stage was as a butterfly in a ballet recital. My first memory of being in a play was as (prepare yourself) Miss Hannigan… I was eight. It was most likely an inappropriately accurate, gin-soaked carbon-copy of Carol Burnett’s performance down to the vocal inflection, but still… I was hooked.
When you were growing up, were there any actors or singers you particularly admired or who influenced you?
Silber: Absolutely. I grew up on classic films — so the old greats were my influences. Danny Kaye, Angela Lansbury, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Cid Charisse. As a soprano, I definitely learned a great deal from Barbara Cook, Julie Andrews, Helena Bliss and, more recently, Judy Kaye, Audra McDonald and Rebecca Luker. I often say Rebecca Luker taught me how to sing — which, of course, she did not literally do, but in many ways it is very true.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
Do you remember a point when you knew performing would be your career rather than a hobby?
Silber: Hmm. No.…Wow, this is a very interesting way to phrase the question—both words don’t entirely resonate with me. You know, even though I was never a child professional, I don’t believe I ever viewed art as a “hobby” or had specific dreams about a “career.” In some way my relationship with the arts always felt lifelong. I still feel that way: that my life is dedicated to a lifelong artistry that includes all the facets of my life. Question: What was your first professional production?
Silber: My first professional job was replacing Jill Paice as Laura Fairlie in the West End production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White. I was 21 and fresh out of my final year of drama school in Glasgow.
You made your Broadway debut in Master Class. How did your first night on Broadway compare to what your expectations of being on Broadway would be?
Silber: It was two things— everything I dreamed of, plus [an] inexplicable fountain of more. As well as— just another wonderful show. One like countless magical others. The fact that it was both of those things makes me smile even remembering it. I was very lucky to have had a Broadway “big sister” in Sierra Boggess (who literally did everything in her power to make it the most magical, Quinceañera-Prom Night-Bachelorette Party-esque event of my life), as well as Broadway “Mama” Tyne Daly, who did the same (but with less glitter).
Yet, after the magical evening, the party, the press and all the fuss, I will never forget going to Galaxy Diner and eating an omelet in my gorgeous dress with my mom, my agent, manager and Kevin, one of my oldest friends from high school. It is all just life — from the sublime to the simple. It is all divine. Especially when 24-hour omelets are involved.
|Photo by Carol Rosegg|
How did your role in Arlington come about?
Silber: I worked on a shorter version of the piece last year within the context of a wonderful project called “Inner Voices” (presented by Premieres). Its mission is to support creative talent; and, inspired by Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, Inner Voices pairs composers and lyricists together to unite the spoken monologue with a tapestry of lyrics and music. There was something so magical about the piece, it felt like it really deserved a full staging (as well as a more full-length “fleshing out”), and here we are.
Tell me about the character you're playing in the musical.
Silber: Sara Jane is a charming, effervescent, very sweet, naïve, yet deeply feeling woman. She comes from a long line of military people (grandfather, father, brother and now husband), service always being a part of her universe. Her husband is currently deployed somewhere in the Middle East, and she is alone at home waiting for his return.
How would you describe the score?
Silber: The score, just like Sara Jane, is emotional. Very emotional. Polly Pen's score is as fluid as the character's thoughts and feelings. It ranges stylistically between opera, Broadway and blues (depending on what Sara Jane is feeling in a particular moment). In other words, it is as though Sara Jane is improvising, making up the score as she goes, right there in the moment. It is extremely exhilarating to embody.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Sara Jane?
Silber: I do! I have so many favorites—and to quote Elizabeth Taylor, “…but they are mine” I'll let the audience choose their very own!
Tell me about the demands of performing in a two-character musical.
Silber: Interestingly, the piece feels like a one-character musical because the other “character” (played beautifully by Ben Moss) is the pianist. And, while it is absolutely a dialogue between our two instruments and psyches, we are separated by a screen and don’t directly interact. My interaction is with the audience itself through direct address, supported by the piano’s (and a few times, by Ben’s) “voice.” So the demand is two fold: 1. carrying an entire piece both energetically, vocally and emotionally without 2. the responses, influences and buoying of a direct onstage “partner.”
All that said, it doesn’t feel like a “demand,” it feels like the very best kind of all-encompassing work.
Do you have any other projects you can talk about?
Silber: I was honored and thrilled to portray Maria in the first full-symphonic performance of West Side Story last year with the San Francisco Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas (opposite the gorgeous Cheyenne Jackson as Tony). The recording is set to be released in June.
[Tickets and more information are available by calling (212) 353-0303 or visiting vineyardtheatre.org.]
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Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.