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Interview: At Home With Tovah Feldshuh

Whatever the day or the circumstance, Tovah will always find a way to create.

Interview: At Home With Tovah Feldshuh She is a Force of Nature, a Tidal Wave of Talent, and a Woman of Substance. There is, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be a stopping of Tovah Feldshuh. This great American actress is constantly living in a state of creation, whether working as an actress, a writer, a raconteur, a family maker or a mover and shaker. So Broadway World Cabaret could not possibly do the AT HOME WITH series without asking Tovah what she's been doing since the lockdown, back in March. It turns out Tovah has been working on a book... and, boy, does it sound like a good one.

This interview has been conducted digitally and is reproduced as written, to get all of Tovah, in her glory and in her own verbiage.

Name: Tovah Feldshuh

First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): TOVAH CROSSOVAH! From Broadway to Cabaret. The Algonquin Oak Room, 1990.

First One-Woman Show: Tyrone Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, 1979.

Most Recent Cabaret Show: TOVAH IS LEONA! 54 Below, NYC & The Mizner Performing Arts Center, Boca Raton, 2020.

Website or Social Media Handles: / / INSTAGRAM @tovahfeldshuh

Tovah Feldshuh, you are so kind to chat with Broadway World today and I am honored to say welcome! Are you and the family all healthy and keeping it sane?

Yes, we are healthy, and I believe happiness is a choice, so I am choosing it every day in order to keep sane. As far reaching as the deprivation is with this quarantine, so it has also given us many gifts. Zoom reunions are thriving, and in this age of technology they can easily include family and friends across the world. I am on my 25th week of running the Kaplan-Feldshuh-Ryzowy-Levy family reunions every Friday night.

I also believe one of the fastest paths to happiness is gratitude, and I am grateful for the life and health I still have.

You've been lucky enough to be isolating outside of the city, where I know you've been working on a book. Are you ready to go public with the details, or should we tease the fans with a promise of news to come?

NOTE: Dear Stephen, LILYVILLE: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I've Played is already on presale at Barnes and Noble, Target, and Amazon. The book will be released April 13, 2021. Here is what Hachette wrote about the book:

From Golda to Ginsburg, Yentl to Mama Rose, Tallulah to the Queen of Mean, Tovah Feldshuh has always played powerful women who aren't afraid to sit at the table with the big boys and rule their world. But offstage, Tovah struggled to fulfill the one role she never auditioned for-Lily Feldshuh's only daughter.

Growing up in Scarsdale, NY in the 1950s, Tovah-known then by her given name Terri Sue-lived a life of piano lessons, dance lessons, shopping trips, and white-gloved cultural trips into Manhattan. In awe of her mother's meticulous appearance and perfect manners, Tovah spent her childhood striving for Lily's approval, only to feel as though she always fell short. Lily's own dreams were beside the point; instead, she devoted herself to Tovah's father Sidney and her two children. Tovah watched Lily retreat into the roles of the perfect housewife and mother, and swore to herself, I will never do this.

When Tovah shot to stardom with the Broadway hit Yentl, winning five awards for her performance, she still did not garner her mother's approval. But, it was her success in another sphere that finally gained Lily's attention. After falling in love with a Harvard-educated lawyer and having children, Tovah found it was easier to understand her mother and the sacrifices she had made. The women's movement, the sexual revolution, and the subsequent mandate for women to "have it all."

Beloved as he had been by both women, Sidney's passing made room for the love that had failed to take root during his life. In her new independence, Lily became outspoken, witty, and profane. "Don't tell Daddy this," Lily whispered to Tovah, "but these are the best years of my life." She lived until 103.

In this insightful, compelling, often hilarious and always illuminating memoir, Tovah shares the highs and lows of a remarkable career that has spanned five decades, and shares the lessons that she has learned, often the hard way, about how to live a life in the spotlight, strive for excellence, and still get along with your mother. Through their evolving relationship we see how expectations for women changed, with a daughter performing her heart out to gain her mother's approval and a mother becoming liberated from her confining roles of wife and mother to become her full self.

A great Mother's Day or any day gift when women want a joyous and meaningful way to celebrate each other.


WELCOME TO LILYVILLE, where my mother Lily reigns. Lily, who gave birth to this "adrenaline junkie" perfectionist daughter. LILYVILLE, where, when I wanted to go to Julliard, my mother said, "No daughter of mine is going to trade school!"

If you came looking for behind-the-scenes tales from The Walking Dead to the history-making mini-series Holocaust, with TV's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sprinkled in between; if you're looking for secret anecdotes about my roles on Broadway in Yentl, Pippin, and Golda's Balcony, with classics like Juliet and Dolly Levi folded in-it's all here. Plus, encounters with Barbra Streisand, Viggo Mortensen, Liev Schreiber, Cybill Shepherd, Patti LuPone, Ruth Gordon, Garson Kanin, Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg-it's all here.

And though all my career roles have happened on Broadway, in film, television, and in concert, my longest run, and ultimately most profound, was as the daughter of Lillian Kaplan Feldshuh. All these roles took place in LILYVILLE, witnessed by its monarch during her robust 103 years on this planet, and in my mind's eye, eternally after-for better or for exasperation. So, come on in. I'm Jewish, we are all about schmoozing. Well, schmoozing and suffering. Well, schmoozing, suffering, and guilt. (I hope you've bought this book. a??)

You write all of your club acts, which read like one-woman plays that happen to be in a cabaret room. What is your writing process?

First, let me be clear that I don't write alone. I wrote TOVAH CROSSOVAH! with Rick Mitz and James Luigs, musical supervisor Wally Harper, and musical director Michael Kosarin.

I wrote TOVAH: Out of Her Mind with Jim Luigs, Rick Mitz, Sara Louise Lazarus (Director). It was also partially written and punched up by the brilliant Larry Amoros, with musical supervision by Wally Harper and musical direction by Scott Cady.

As variations on these acts progressed from the Algonquin to the Regency Hotel and now at 54 Below, they went under various titles: TOVAH: Party of Ten; TOVAH: In a Nutshell; TOVAH: On, Ovah, and Now Under Broadway; et cetera.

Before I owned the rights to the play Golda's Balcony by William Gibson, I fashioned a concert entitled The Journey to Golda's Balcony, with Sally Mayes directing, gifted Johnny Rogers as the musical director, and ultimately the great Alex Rybeck at the piano. Alex and I have played several concerts together. He never disappoints.

My last two collaborations, Aging is Optional: Cause G-d, I Hope it is! and TOVAH AS LEONA! were with musical director and arranger James Bassi and Director Jeff Harnar. The three of us created those pieces together. James and Jeff are my artistic soulmates. At the end of my rehearsals with them, I feel like I have drunk from the fountain of youth and talent. I remain ever grateful.

Without the help of all these extraordinary artists, I don't know that all my one-woman shows would have come to such fruition. These artists are a blessing in my life, and I don't take one moment of their lives for granted.

Do you find there is a difference in the mindset and process of writing a performance piece and writing a book?

Yes, there is a difference. When you are performing live, you can speak in abbreviated language. You can intimate with your body, with a look, with a movement toward or away from the other player. You can change volume, costume, accent, and voice pitch to specify your feelings and to push the story forward. You can speak below language.

When you write a book, all those sensations need to be elucidated by vivid text, to draw the reader into the canvas of your narrative. My one-woman shows and my memoir have one very important value in common: they both seek to engage and capture the interest of the audience/reader, from start to finish.

Where do you get all the energy from? Creative and physical? You are the ultimate dynamo.

I get my enthusiasm for life from my father Sidney and my strength to meet life, with all its challenges, from my mother Lily, who lived to over 103 and is the prime focus of LILYVILLE. My parents gave my brother David and me such an abundance of love, that we have a surplus in us that nourishes our joy for life. We are belly-full with enthusiasm for the dawn.

I go to the sea every day here in the Hamptons to visit my mother, for from the sea did all life begin. My father used to say in the mornings, "Morning Glory! Every day is a new day!" My grandmother Marion called my father Sonny, and I thought she meant "sunny," so I bought into that interpretation. I call my son Brandon my "sunny son." As Eleanor Roosevelt advised us, we must choose light over darkness. Make no mistake, my daughter Amanda also gives me unending joy. I have learned much from her. Amanda and her husband Joel, and Brandon and his wife Jami, have graced us with two gorgeous grandchildren and one on the way. There is no better way to avoid the fear of death than to spend your time with an infant or a 2 year-old who is in a constant state of discovering the wonders of the world.

Did you enjoy playing Naomi Bunch in Rachel Bloom's Crazy-Ex Girlfriend?

I totally loved it and was thrilled to employ everything I was trained to do for the Broadway stage, now in front of the camera in Hollywood. It didn't hurt that I was flanked by astonishing artists: Rachel Bloom, Donna Lynne Champlin, Vincent Rodriguez III, Pete Gardner, Vella Lovell, Gabrielle Ruiz, and Scott Michael Foster.

Tovah, where's the bathroom?

Between New York and the Hamptons, we have plenty! G-d bless Rachel Bloom, Jack Dolgen, and Adam Schlesinger (of Blessed Memory) for writing me that tune. I've put it in the act!

Amanda Claire and Garson Brandon did not go into the arts like their Mom - what are the strongest common interests you share with each of your children?

The strongest common interest Amanda and Brandon share with me is the love of family. When the world rights itself, the children also love to go to Broadway shows. I love to go to ballet with Amanda, since she was in the New York City Ballet Children's Corp for four seasons, playing houses of 2,000 a night. I love to go to soccer games with Brandon or to watch Brandon, as he was captain of soccer at Collegiate, captain of JV soccer at Harvard, and a varsity player for the Oxford University "Football" (Soccer) Club. My children were the answer to a Jewish mother's dream: one at Harvard in Economics, one at MIT in Physics. Maybe it was that 92nd Street Y Nursery School!

And what is your favorite thing about having been Lily's daughter?

The fact that Lily lived long enough for all our problems to be solved was the greatest gift she could give me. When she died at over 103, we already had at least 18 years of bliss, as she bloomed like a lily. Mother's wisdom, wit, and fortitude were inspirational. As she grew older, she became more and more flexible, and less and less frightened. As Saroyan says, "A branch, in order to bear fruit, must learn to bend." Lily did.

We all saw you do your thing in Pippin, which you talk about and recreate in your cabaret play, an act in which you are extremely physical. What's the secret to staying so fit?

My father said to me, "If you pee and you poop and you cut a sweat every day, where can disease land?" I bought that philosophy, hook, line, and sinker. Also, at my age, if you don't want to be sad, and you don't want to take antidepressants, all you have to do is exercise. The only pills I take are vitamins. I swim three quarters of a mile every day, because it feels good. I take pilates twice a week, and physical therapy once a week to keep strengthening my ankles, knees, and lower back. So far, so good. I also load up on SANE foods (recommended by Jonathan Bailor)-tons of vegetables. My daughter, Amanda, has alerted me to the value of roasting any vegetable you can get your hands on. I eat kale like popcorn. I love to eat, so if I eat high-quality foods, the weight pours off; and if I eat peanut butter or popcorn instead of roasted kale, the weight does not pour off!

I now weigh 112lbs, which is what I weighed in seventh grade! I can fit into everything except my brassieres. I don't think there's a breast pad left in New York City. I have a monopoly on them to show the world I HAVE breasts!

When you did your first cabaret show Tovah Crossovah, you came out of the gate with a specific point of view and style that is all your own, and you've maintained that style of act ever since.

I felt compelled to do "a transformative piece." Very early in my career, I did my very first one-woman show at the Guthrie Theatre, paid to star in my own evening concert after having spent 2 years there as a spear-carrier in their classical rep company. It was, of course, a thrilling experience, and an upturn of circumstance. The piece was simply called "An Evening with Tovah Feldshuh." It started out with the number, "To Be a Performer" by Caterina Valente.

In the summer of 1981, David Friedman, the musical director, Rick Mitz, my collaborative writer, Rick Atwell, the director, and I, all asked Jack O'Brien at The Old Globe if we could bring my one-woman show to his theatre as a fundraiser, and he was delighted. He supervised that next production, which became TOVAH: A Rush Hour Revue, and was performed from 6-7 in the evening, circling around the life of a performer and the requirement of transformation to really become great. The minute that show ended, I rushed into my next costume to play Isabella in Measure for Measure at 8, opposite John Glover (1981). Talk about transforming. I felt like I was molting!

How did you develop the Tovah club act aesthetic?

I have always reached to be a transformative artist. The natural outgrowth of that desire became creating characters eight to eighty, comic and dramatic, who sing. I even sang in their voices. Molly Kelly Kugelberg, child of a mixed marriage, had a major sinus problem. Madame Violetta, the classical opera teacher who could not find her speaking voice, "sang" her entire dialogue in a high soprano. I was all over the spectrum becoming vastly different characters within the cabaret genre. Except for LEONA and The Journey to Golda's Balcony, my one-woman shows are modular. They can exist in a 90-minute format, or a 10-minute format, depending on who needs what on any given occasion. Even at Yale, I taught "The Actor's Approach to a Song," grappling with the question, how does an actor connect with a lyric so deeply that it seems as if he has written the lyric himself on the spot?

In such difficult and complicated times do you have a personal philosophy or mantra that you use to guide you, something that always keeps you in the light?

Take a deep breath. Hold your breath and pinch your nose for as long as you can. Feel what it's like not to breathe. Release. Then, breathe in your LIFE.

Two of my philosophies I've already stated: Happiness is a choice, and the quickest path to happiness is gratitude. I end this interview with a quote from Joe Biden: "Together, we will choose hope over fear, unity over division, and truth over lies."

Stand firm for what you believe in. VOTE.

Tovah Feldshuh, thank you so much for this interview and for everything you do. You're amazing.

Thank you Stevemeister.. thank you.

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