Interview: Real-Life Married Couple Alexandra Socha & Etai Benson Share the Stage in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

The production plays through January 7, 2024 at Paper Mill Playhouse.

By: Dec. 17, 2023
Interview: Real-Life Married Couple Alexandra Socha & Etai Benson Share the Stage in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

Real-life married couple Alexandra Socha and Etai Benson are falling in love every night on stage as Tzeitel and Motel and in Fiddler on the Roof at Paper Mill Playhouse. The production, directed by Paper Mill Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director Mark S. Hoebee plays through January 7, 2024 at Paper Mill Playhouse (22 Brookside Drive). 

This classic musical features a book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Paper Mill’s production showcases the original Tony-winning choreography by Jerome Robbins (reproduction choreography by Parker Esse). 

In addition to Socha and Benson, the production stars Jordan Gelber as Tevye, Jill Abramovitz as Golde, Austen Danielle Bohmer as Hodel, Maya Jacobson as Chava, David R. Gordon as Perchik, Suzanne Grodner as Yente,  Jeremy Radin as Lazar Wolf, and Andrew Alstat as Fyedka.

BroadwayWorld spoke with Socha and Benson about how it feels to star opposite on another, balancing work and being new parents, Jewish joy and vitality in Fiddler on the Roof, and more. 

Where did you two meet?

E: We originally met back in 2011, we did a reading together. But, what’s funny about this whole thing of us working together, before I ever met Alexandra I was sort of a fan! I fell in love with her as an actress first before I ever knew her as a person. Right before we met in a reading, I saw her in a play in 2011 called The Dream of the Burning Boy at the Roundabout Underground, and I remember just being so blown away by her performance. Then, not long after we were both hired to do a 29-hour reading of a musical adaptation of A Room With a View, where I played her, ahem, younger brother. We met and were friendly, and were friends on Facebook maybe. But then we got together years after that.

A: Yeah, like seven years later. We didn’t really see each other or stay in touch that much. But seven years later we got back in touch and, actually, another actress who was in that reading with us was Alexandra Silber, and we both remained friends with her after that reading. And she’s sort of our Yenta, she made things happen, because she knew Etai was interested, and she sort of set the whole thing up. She wasn’t able to be at our wedding because she was working in London, but she wrote our wedding ceremony for us, which was really amazing!

Aside from that reading, have you two ever been in a full production together?

E & A: No!

Were you looking for an opportunity to do a show together? How did this opportunity come about?

A: I think we always joked about what roles we thought we could play opposite each other in, but you never really know if that’s actually going to happen or not. And, frankly, we didn’t know how we would work together, would we even have stage chemistry? Sometimes you have chemistry with someone off stage but not on, or vice versa. I don’t really know how this all worked out, but all I know is one day I got a call from my manager, Erica Tuchman, and she just said, “Hey, guess what? I got you and your husband a gig. You’re going to go play Motel and Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof.” And it was such glorious news, and it turns out I think we do have pretty decent stage chemistry! [laughs].

E: The team and our fellow castmates all said encouraging things.

A: They have, but they also know we’re married, so sometimes I don’t know if they just think it’s cute because they know we’re married or if it’s actually good work, we’ll have to see!

E: What’s great too is that even though we have not done a production together, we’ve now spent- especially since the pandemic, and all of the auditions on tape- we are each other’s permanent reader for almost every audition. And every audition means us working together and analyzing scenes together, and talking through beats together. So, it feels like we have worked together on a small scale for the last couple of years, but now we get to do it on a larger scale, and in costume, in a full production. It’s really a dream.

Interview: Real-Life Married Couple Alexandra Socha & Etai Benson Share the Stage in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

That’s so special. How did it actually feel once you got in the rehearsal room together? 

A: It felt very natural!

E: It did, but also, when you’ve been in a relationship for a little while, and you’re married, you think, ‘Well, I know just about everything about this person, I’ve seen every side of this person.’ The one thing we haven’t really seen is each other in a rehearsal room, an actors’ natural habitat. And so, to watch Alexandra not only working, but also being social in this kind of setting, and this group, it’s seeing these different shades of her I’ve never seen before, and it’s beautiful.

A: And I’m not surprised at all, but Etai is absolutely the class clown [laughs]. I always had a suspicion he was, but I had to tell him to stop joking around a couple of times [laughs], because I tend to be a bit more serious than him!

E: And I’m a bit more silly, so we’re balancing each other out!

That’s what a good couple does, right? Balance each other out!

A & E: Yeah.

E: We also made it a point to never sit next to each other, our chairs were across the room from each other.

A: No, that’s a lie, we would sit next to each other.

E: But we said from the beginning, we don’t want to just be our own little unit away from the rest of the cast, we want to intermingle and have our own relationships with other members of the cast.

A: Also, it’s a really incredible group that they put together for this production in terms of talent and in terms of personhood as well, it’s just a really warm, hardworking, kind, special group of people, so it certainly hasn’t been hard to be social and make new friends because it’s a very accepting space. We do also have a small baby, and this was a big thing, us going to work, and having babysitters and all these things. Our baby had been to rehearsal many times, and he was very accepted by everyone in the room.

E: He’s become like the cast mascot.

A: That’s really special, and I’m really thankful to Mark Hoebee, the director and Artistic Director of Paper Mill Playhouse for creating an environment like that where that actually feels familial in that way, and us being parents of a very small child has never felt like a burden, or something that we have to hide when we come to work. Especially as a woman, I was very scared to have a baby and be an actress, and this has exceeded any possible dream in terms of how to balance those two things. I feel very lucky. I don’t think this is the norm, but it should be. I’m a better mother because I get to go to work and fulfill the part of me that wants to act and work, but I’ve also become a better performer. When I feel like both can co-exist, I’m better at both of them, and neither one has felt neglected in any way, and that’s really special and really rare.

Do you feel like you two relate to Motel and Tzeitel individually? And as a couple are they similar to you as a couple?

E: It’s pretty wonderful to get to play out a full relationship on stage, we’re literally getting married eight times a week on stage. We keep joking that we’re finally having the super Jewish wedding my family always wanted [laughs]. Not only that, but we’re going through marriage onstage, and eventually we have a baby too onstage. So, we’re reliving that. And also reliving the joy of a wedding onstage, we got married through Covid, which came through a lot of feelings. We had our little Covid marriage ceremony and sort of a big party later, so we’re bringing a lot of those memories on the stage. We’re bringing ourselves as much as we can to this onstage relationship.

What would you say you’re most looking forward to with this production of Fiddler? 

Interview: Real-Life Married Couple Alexandra Socha & Etai Benson Share the Stage in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

A: Unfortunately, we have yet to live in a moment where Fiddler is not relevant. Unfortunately this show is always relevant, especially in terms of the community that it is dealing with. As brilliant as this show is, I would love for it to feel dated, but it just hasn’t happened yet. And I think it’s particularly special to be in a room of majority Jewish or Jewish-identifying artists, in terms of the cast, and to have a creative team leading us who, while they are not Jewish, are very open and very collaborative about the aspects of this story that are really special to the Jewish people in the room. It’s always a joy to do this show, but without getting into too much, the fact of the matter is that Jewish people in America don’t feel particularly celebrated at this moment, and they don’t feel particularly safe. And Fiddler, while it deals with a lot of difficult things, it also really celebrates…

E: Jewish joy.

A: Jewish joy, and Jewish vitality. And I think as creators in the room we have really felt that. We have really felt the joy in being able to tell a very specific Jewish story, where the specificity of it makes it universal. It makes so many people be able to relate to it. But, I have found the cast really leaning into the joyous moments like the wedding, or ‘To Life’, and the humor, and the silliness, and releasing a lot of emotions through joy as opposed to through pain. And that’s been really great, and I’m excited for audiences of any background to experience that, and to know that the Jewish story has a lot of hardship and pain, but it also has so much joy.

E: On a personal level, for me, for Alexandra, and for much of the cast, the experience of telling this story right now is incredibly healing, incredibly cathartic, and we found out about this Fiddler before October, and then the world changed very massively, and suddenly, us putting on a production of Fiddler felt imperative. You can really feel that in the room, as Alexandra mentioned about the creative team, their openness, and collaboration. One of the things our director did was bring in a Rabbi, and having his presence and his voice in the room as a guiding voice when we needed him, has been incredibly helpful, and it’s made space for the myriad emotions that are floating through right now. It’s hard, because people like to put their emotions solely on social media these days, and as artists, we want to put it into work. And Fiddler is giving us that opportunity to put not only the pain, and the confusion, and the anxiety, but the joy, and the love that we have, into work. And I think that is going to reflect in the performance.