For reasons both creative and commercial, musical theater is not a place for sequels. In Hollywood, when the latest superhero film scores strong numbers during its opening weekend, plans are immediately confirmed for at least one sequel. On Broadway, with few exceptions, there is no Hamilton 2: Eliza Tells the Story. Instead of sequels, great musicals get revivals, where new directors, designers and actors come in and reimagine them (hopefully not detrimentally).
I am hard-pressed to think of a single sequel to a musical that was successful. Disastrous examples include Bring Back Birdie (four performances), Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge (closed out of town, later revised into the underwhelming Annie Warbucks), Love Never Dies (Phantom sequel that has not yet come to Broadway) and The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public (16 performances).
Fiddler on the Roof has a kind of unofficial sequel in Rags, the 1986 musical by Charles Strouse, Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein (who wrote the book of Fiddler) about poor Jewish immigrants adjusting to harsh living conditions on the Lower East Side – and Rags too was a flop, lasting just four performances.
Now another unofficial Fiddler sequel has arrived in the form of a thoughtfully devised piece of young-adult fan fiction: After Anatevka, a Novel Inspired by Fiddler on the Roof, written by Alexandra Silber, who played oldest daughter Tzeidel in the recent Broadway revival of Fiddler and previously played second-oldest daughter Hodel in the West End. Even though it is a novel instead of a musical, legally speaking, After Anatevka constitutes a derivative work protected under copyright law. Silber clearly needed the consent of the Fiddler rights owners to publish the novel. Judging by the fact that Fiddler lyricist Sheldon Harnick wrote the book’s foreword, one can assume that Silber obtained the necessary legal permission.
Whereas Fiddler is often told from the point of view of Tevye (who begins the show by directly addressing the audience and later has other short monologues), After Anatevka is the dramatic and traumatic story of Hodel and her fiancé Perchik immediately following the events of Fiddler. When we last see Perchik in Fiddler, he has advised Hodel that he needs to leave Anatevka at once in order to continue his underground political work. When we last see Hodel, she is waiting for a train to take her from Anatevka to Siberia, where Perchik has apparently been imprisoned by the Russian authorities.
Even by the standards of Fiddler (which ends the first act with a violent pogrom), After Anatevka is full of shocking and gruesome content. But when you consider the situation that Hodel and Perchik have gotten themselves into, and the time period and setting, this is not surprising. The book opens with Hodel herself imprisoned, suffering and starving, with no clue as to Perchik’s whereabouts or what the authorities want from her. Eventually she is transported to another prison facility further east, where she is finally reunited with Perchik, and where they face further challenges.
Silber intersperses the book with flashbacks of the earlier lives of Hodel and Perchik – both as children and during the time depicted in Fiddler. In other words, Silber has created extremely detailed backstories for both of them. Hodel’s backstory primarily deals with her relationship with her sisters and her feelings over her changing body and mindset during adolescence. Perchik’s backstory is a surprise. Silber imagines that he is an orphan who is placed in the reluctant custody of a financially secure but miserly uncle. Failing to win his uncle’s love in spite of his superb intellectual abilities, Perchik abandons his uncle’s accounting business and sets off on a new and uncertain life.
I suspect that the novel (with its melodramatic plot twists, high-pitched romance, love triangles and emphasis on budding sexuality) will be best appreciated by young girls who are performing in, have already performed in, or have at least seen Fiddler. It ought to be especially appreciated by any actors who, going forward, play Hodel or Perchik or any of Tevye’s other daughters. In light of the cliffhanger-style ending of After Anatevka, Silber could conceivably keep going and create yet another book about Hodel – or maybe she could write one about Tzeidel or Chava. Better yet, how about a Lazar Wolf book, with details about life as a butcher?
While stage sequels never seem to work, After Anatevka suggests that in the age of e-readers, novelization is an opportunity worthy of further creative and commercial consideration. What if Benj Pasek and Justin Paul came out with a prequel novel about the characters of Dear Evan Hansen? Or what if actor Anthony Rapp (who penned the memoir Without You) envisioned a future for Mark in Rent? I think many musical theater fans would be interested in works like that. What if producers provided legal permission and an online platform for fans to experiment with fan fiction? There are probably other actors out there like Silber who feel so connected to a character they are playing that they will go so far as to write out a backstory. Perhaps the best work could be published. Not long ago, someone created a fan-fiction revamp of the Twilight novels built around vast wealth and sexual kinks. You may know it as Fifty Shades of Grey.