DEBUT OF THE MONTH: Alexandra Silber of MASTER CLASS!
Alexandra Silber is currently making her Broadway debut as Sophie DePalma in MASTER CLASS alongside Tyne Daly, Sierra Boggess, Jeremy Cohen, Garrett Sorenson, and Clinton Brandhagen. Directed by Stephen Wadsworth, the show is playing a limited engagement through Sunday, September 4 at MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street).
Terrence McNally's play about Maria Callas (Tyne Daly) takes us to one of her famous master classes, where, late in her own career, she dares the next generation to make the same sacrifices and rise to the same heights that made her the most celebrated, the most reviled and the most controversial singer of her time.
Silber took time out of her busy schedule to chat with BWW about her debut on the Great White Way.
Though this is your Broadway debut, you've been around for quite a while! What have you been up to before now?
I have actually been in London for the past six years doing West End shows. I'm obviously American. I was born and raised here, but I went to college in Scotland at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama when I was eighteen. I studied straight acting- I got my degree in acting there. I always sang, but it was always just 'for me.' It wasn't a training kind of a thing- it was me going to a practice room and messing around. When I was in my final year they came and taught the straight actors how to do a musical theatre audition, should that ever arise, and basically eight weeks later I was taking over for Jill Paice as Laura Fairlie in Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE WOMAN IN WHITE on the West End. I was 21, and I was like ‘I don't think I even know what the West End is!' I'm working with Trevor Nunn and Ruthie Henshall and Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, and I was just not quite certain of what was going on.
I fell face-first into musicals and into singing. And, then from there I played Hodel in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in the West End and then went on to play Julie Jordan in CAROUSEL in the West End as well. I had this whole West End musical career which I never anticipated, and after all that I just never had an opportunity to come home- London sort of became my home. And the show finished, and the relationship that I was in for about four and a half years also finished at the same time, and I sort of thought ‘This might be a time for me to distance myself and heal my heart and go home and see what happens.' I thought I was gonna stay for about three months and within three weeks I had an agent, a manager and nine months of work!
Wow, good for you!
I thought, ‘I'm here to stay!' And at the very end of that nine months of work was this production of MASTER CLASS at the Kennedy Center. Tyne's performance was such a revelation- the crowning jewel really of this festival of Terrence McNally plays that happened there last year. And I was lucky enough to be brought along with the production to Broadway! So that's my career life story!
For those who might not have seen MASTER CLASS yet, can you tell us a little bit about your character, Sophie?
Oh Soph! I actually think that Sophie is the most relatable of all the three students for the everyday person. We all possess some degree of greatness inside of us- some degree of true magical potential and we have our own way of accessing it and expressing it. I think that we compensate with jokes and character traits that we think will give us personality. We add to ourselves in order to make ourselves worth more, and I think Sophie embodies that person. She strips away all of the excessive things and learns that she, stripped with her naked bare soul, is enough.
Do you think that you're at all like her in real life?
Yes, but who isn't like Sophie? Who hasn't forgotten their pencil or made a really inappropriate joke or wore the wrong thing to an event? You know what I mean? We all make those ‘jerk' moves where we want to implode and die.
You're gonna love this story- even in the process of auditioning for this show... I can't believe I'm about to tell this to you! When they were first auditioning for these roles, they were really only auditioning opera singers for the second act characters and they were opening up the first act to actresses, and I wanted to make sure that they understood that I wasn't an opera singer. I learned the aria off of YouTube- I'm not joking. I came out of the elevator and the rehearsal space is filled with opera singers in their prom dresses! I was like, ‘my life is over. I can't compete with these women!'
I thought...‘where would an actress go that an opera singer could never go in her prom dress? The utility closet.' I went to the utility closet and I close the door and I take a moment with the bleach and the toilet paper and I'm warming up and doing my aria. And, then I discover that I've locked myself inside the utility closet - so they had have to come get me and I was 20 minutes late for the audition. I pretty much came in as this character! So, there you are. Even a West End leading lady can lock herself in the utility closet.
That is an amazing story! To go off of what you just touched on, you've been a West End leading lady! Do you find the whole Broadway experience different to starring in a West End show? Do you prefer one to the other?
They each have their virtues. I have to say, however that there's no place like home. Like I said earlier, I was 21 and didn't even know what the West End was. Someone had to explain it to me and say, ‘it's like the Broadway of London.' I just didn't get it. So that being said, when you're a kid and you know you want to be a professional actor, you dream of Broadway and New York, and being a part of this community. There's nothing like actually arriving here despite the fancy stuff I've done.
Let's talk about your awesome cast. What's it like working with such a talented group of people?
I have to say that this is one of the best casts I've been a part of. I think that part of that is not only because the people are great, but because we all come from such different backgrounds and we're at such different places in our lives. It's a really unusual group that somehow just fits together in a jewelry box like perfectly curated pieces of jewelry.
One of the things that Stephen Wadsworth, our director, said was that when they were casting the students they looked at a lot of actors that could sing, a lot of musical theatre performers, and a lot of opera singers and they cast one of each. That just starts it off so beautifully! And then of course you add Clinton Brandhagen, who has so few lines but does so much with it- and he's like a regional theatre star! And Jeremy Cohen who has written his own musicals and of course the legendary Tyne Daly! It's just an amazing family.
Terrence [McNally] is so involved in the process and of course Stephen [Wadsworth] himself is one of the most prolific opera directors in the world. And there's no person that you're just like, ‘it would be so enjoyable if that person just wasn't here.' They're all jewels in the jewelry box!
You appear pretty much only in the first act of the show. What do you do while you're waiting for curtain call?
You're the first person that's ever asked me that! I want to start a twitter feeds with a hash tag called ‘Act Two Tweets.' There a couple of things that I do. Sometimes, and I'm not joking, I do an exercise video. I'm actually in the process of writing a series of novels. It's kinda crazy right? I'm writing a trilogy of novels and I have a lot of deadlines, so I try to use the forty minutes that I have to work on the book.
Wow, you're a girl of many talents! You also have a solo show coming up in December- what can we expect from that?
It's so full circle, because the whole theme of my solo show is ‘London Still' which is also the name of my blog. The subtitle is ‘A Classic Tale of There and Back Again.' It's the story of why I went to London and why I came home, which I sort of think is a fascinating subject. The concept of returning where you began- you are never the same as when you started. It's the oldest story in the world- from Odysseus, to Bilbo Baggins, to Dorothy. It's a part of everybody and I really wanted to explore it.
The show is autobiographical and linear. The thing that's also deeply symbolic about it is that it's at the Kennedy Center, which is where I began my MASTER CLASS journey, on Maria Callas' birthday! I'm excited as well because it's the day before the Kennedy Center Honors. I started it at Feinstein's, I took it to Los Angeles, and I was so honored to be asked by Barbara Cook to be a part of her Spotlight Series. It feels really exciting to be back there- I loved working with the Kennedy Center, and I'm excited to tell the story again with even more new perspective.
I feel this is just the beginning of an amazing Broadway career for you- Is there anyone in the theatre community that you're dying to work with in the future?
I'd love to act with John Glover! I would love to work with David Leveaux. Also, two high school friends of mine who are deeply embedded in the Broadway community- we sometimes look at each other and say, ‘my god, we actually did it!'- are Santino Fontana and Michael Arden. We all went to summer camp together when we were teenagers and we've stayed friends the whole time, so I would really love to work with them.
I would also love to work with Michael John LaChiusa again! I just did the Transport Group's off-Broadway revival of HELLO, AGAIN before I started MASTER CLASS, and I loved singing his music and working with him, and I would love to do it again.
Lastly, do you have a Broadway dream role?
Oh my god, why don't I ever think of these things! The thing about being a woman in this business is that so many roles are ahead of you. I know that I would have a lot to say about playing Electra. I would love to do Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT and Yelena in UNCLE VANYA. As far as musical theatre roles go, there's only one: Amalia in SHE LOVES ME.
Silber's LONDON STILL cabaret will play the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre on December 2 at 7:30PM. Tickets go on sale October 5 and can be purchased here.
Tickets for MASTER CLASS are available by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200 , online by visiting www.Telecharge.com, or by visiting the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office (261 West 47th Street). Ticket prices are $57 - $121.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus