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Pippin - Broadway

Stephen Schwartz's musical receives its first Broadway revival.

Tovah Feldshuh Looks Back on Three Tony-Nominated Roles, Her Sexy Star Turn in Pippin & More

Tovah Feldshuh Looks Back on Three Tony-Nominated Roles, Her Sexy Star Turn in Pippin & More
Tovah Feldshuh
Tovah Feldshuh recalls a trio of Tony-honored roles and more.

The irrepressible Tovah Feldshuh is celebrating her 40th anniversary as a Broadway actress, from ensemble member in the short-lived 1973 musical Cyrano to her current stint as the title character’s high-flying (literally) grandma Berthe in Pippin. Along the way, Feldshuh has amassed four Tony nominations and proved herself a master at playing strong, compelling women. For her Role Call, the stage favorite revisited three of her most honored performances, plus her very first musical at age 13, a Hello, Dolly! with extreme sentimental value and, of course, the sexy sexagenarian she’s playing right now at the Music Box Theatre.

Role That Was the Most Challenging
”I was so young when I played the title role in Yentl [1975, Best Actress Tony nomination], and I never expected the show to transfer from the Brooklyn Academy of Music to the O’Neill Theatre. I had to cut my full head of hair on stage every night —eight wigs a week—and go from girl to boy in the fastest change in Christendom, if you dare use such a word for Yentl. I also had to study a whole new culture; I snuck myself into a Hassidic Yeshiva in Borough Park dressed as a modern Orthodox boy, and it was only my naivete that protected me from having a nervous breakdown from my escapades. Every performance, I jumped over one of the sitting cast members. This went on for an entire season, and my knees have never fully forgiven me. Yentl was the launch of my New York career, and besides the awards and the thrill of ‘starring on Broadway,’ it brought me the beginning of what has become a warm acquaintanceship with Barbra Streisand, who has been nothing but kind and generous.”

Role That Was the Most Surprising
“When I was 13 years old, I was a piano major at National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan. I could not win at concertos no matter how long I practiced, so I decided to audition for plays with music rather than pursuing the life of a solo instrumentalist. I was most encouraged when I was cast in the title role in Little Mary Sunshine. My best friend at camp was a theater major (I became dual major in piano and theater) and she had an older brother. Ten years later, on February 16, 1976, he came backstage at Yentl, and I married him a year after that. So I am astonished to tell you that at NMC, I found my life’s work and my life’s partner, my beloved husband of 37 years, Andrew Harris Levy.”

Role That Was the Funniest
“Playing Maria Merelli in the original Broadway production of Lend Me a Tenor [1989, Best Featured Actress Tony nomination] opposite Phil Bosco, Victor Garber and Ron Holgate was a laugh a minute. My character, the wife of the visiting Italian opera star, was so crazy; so obsessively jealous. I love doing farce, I love a good laugh. My mother, Lily, is going to be 103 years old next April 18. She still has her wits, and when I ask her, ‘Mama, how have you lived so long, and so well?’ her reply is, ‘Laughter and chocolate on a daily basis.’ Now that I am joyfully in Pippin, I can’t afford the chocolate, but the laughter? Bring it on!

Role That Was the Sexiest
“How could even the sexiest sexpot roles I’ve played—like Dona Flor, Maria Merelli, Stella Adler or Tallulah Bankhead—compete with Berthe on that trapeze in Pippin? I see the entire trapeze act as a love affair between me and ‘the catcher.’ Berthe’s function is to teach her grandson Pippin what it looks like to lead a full life in vivid rainbow color. And his very next scene is his OWN discovery of sex. My performance in Pippin is dedicated to my mother.”

Role That Was the Most Meaningful
“Not only did Golda’s Balcony [2003, as Golda Meir; Best Actress Tony nomination] become the longest running one-woman play in the history of Broadway, but it brought to me the company of heads of state, and put me in the position where my voice, crying for peace, might be heard. I still do short runs of Golda’s Balcony wherever I can, and it is one of the deepest satisfactions of my artistic life, despite the two hours it requires to put on the nose, the hair, the fat suit, the fat legs, and—my favorite pastime—sculpting the varicose veins beneath my support hose. What I loved about Golda is that she never gave up on her primogenitor: the State of Israel. This, to her, was her firstborn child, and a life that she had to secure for the future, despite all odds. As Golda would say, ‘Some people love you, and some people love you and show up.’ Golda showed up.”

Role That Had the Best Costumes
“When I starred in Hello, Dolly! at Paper Mill Playhouse [2006], I weighed what I weigh now, 115 pounds, and the designer took every advantage of my small waist, wrists and ankles to transform me into Irish immigrant Dolly Gallagher, who marries Ephraim Levi and must become a working girl, a matchmaker, once she is widowed. The costumes were threaded with crimson, my favorite color, and one of the key colors for Dolly and the Feldshuh family: the color of love, and of the heart. At the time I did the play, we thought my mother was dying of aortic stenosis. I would go from the theater to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, often sleeping on a chair next to my mother’s bed. She had her aortic valve replaced on June 14, 2006, making medical history, and was later ambulanced to a performance with one of her doctors, Susheel Kodali. At the curtain call, I introduced the man who saved my mother’s life, and we all sang, ‘Hello Ko-dali.’ I don’t know how I would have survived those dark days without that wonderful, optimistic musical.”

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