Chicago actress Elana Ernst Silverstein, 29

While most of her friends at Highland Park High School were still thinking of where they were going to study, Elana Ernst Silverstein already was booking the national tour of one of Broadway's biggest hits: "Mamma Mia!". And she had a bright future on the Chicago-area stage.

"Elana became a pro so young," said Jessica Redish, the artistic director of The Music Theatre Company of Highland Park and a friend since the two met in a program for teens at the former Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park. "She brought such humanity to the stage. She could tell a story with her soul. Yet she would eat Subway sandwiches while she was out on the road. She wanted to save her 'per diem' for college."

Silverstein died Monday, leaving behind a grieving family in Berwyn, including a daughter, Maya, who turned one year old on Tuesday. Her sister, Leah Ernst, said that Silverstein died "due to complications from the medication she was given following a minor surgical procedure." She was 29.

After leaving the "Mamma Mia!" tour, Silverstein studied at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati, where she was determined to hone her acting skills. Silverstein (her stage name remained Elana Ernst) then came to Chicago and performed with such groups as The Music Theatre Company and the Chicago Children's Theatre, where she also worked in the administrative office, mindful, her friends said, of the need to build her skill set and help support a family. But it was on stage where she most came alive.

"She was just so wild and creative," said Chicago director Sean Graney, who directed her in "The Hundred Dresses." "Really, she made her entire character up herself. There really wasn't much there on the page. It was all built with her own personality and intelligence."

Silverstein also appeared in several of the summer concert performances of Broadway titles at the Ravinia Festival, including "Gypsy" and "Annie Get Your Gun," and she appeared in the new musical "How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back?" at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. She also performed in shows at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire and the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

"Elana was one of the funniest actresses I have ever met," said David Silverstein, her husband, who spoke at length of her diverse creative talents. "She always connected with people because she was so wonderful, genuine and nice."

"We were midsentence," said Redish. "She wasn't done."

Clearly, the sense of feeling midsentence rang true with many of those in the Chicago theater, and beyond, who knew Silverstein. Earlier this week, social-media networks were filled with expressions of sorrow, disbelief and love. Redish said she was hoping that her theater space in Highland Park could be named for Silverstein.

Along with husband David, daughter Maya and sister Leah, survivors include mother Tirza Ernst and father Edward Ernst. A memorial service is planned for Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Congregation B'nai Tikvah synagogue in Deerfield.

cjones5@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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