Tovah Feldshuh





Actress and playwright

Born Terri Sue Feldshuh, December 27, 1952, in New York, NY; daughter of Sidney (an attorney) and Lillian (maiden name, Kaplan) Feldshuh; married Andrew Harris-Levy (an attorney), March 20, 1977; children: Garson Brandon, Amanda Claire. Education: Graduated from Sarah Lawrence College; studied acting with Uta Hagen; attended University of Minnesota.

Addresses: Agent —The Gage Group, 315 West 57th St., Ste. 408, New York, NY 10019. Contact —322 Central Park West, #11B, New York, NY 10025. Management—Fox -Albert Management, 88 Central Park West, New York, NY 10023.

Career

Actress on the stage, including: Cyrano de Bergerac, Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, 1971; Cyrano, Palace Theater, New York, NY, 1973; Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy, Brooklyn Academy of Music Playhouse, 1974-75; Yentl, Eugene O'Neill Theatre, 1975-76; toured United States in Peter Pan, 1978; affiliated with the Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, early 1980s; She Stoops to Conquer, Roundabout/Triplex Theatre, New York, NY, 1984; Lend Me a Tenor, Royale Theater, 1989; Tallulah's Party, Kaufman Theatre, 1998; Tallulah Hallelujah!, Douglas Fairbanks Theater, New York, NY, 2000; Golda's Balcony, Helen Hayes Theatre, 2003-05. One-woman stage shows include: A Touch of Tovah, Old Globe Theatre, 1981; Tovah: Out of Her Mind!, 1996; Tovah: Still Out of Her Mind!, 2002. Film appearances include: Nunzio, 1978; The Idolmaker, 1980; Daniel, 1983; Brewster's Millions,

Tovah Feldshuh
1985; A Walk on the Moon, 1999; Kissing Jessica Stein, 2001. Television appearances include: Scream, Pretty Peggy (movie), ABC, 1973; Ryan's Hope, 1976; Holocaust (miniseries), NBC, 1978; Law & Order, NBC, 1991-2004.

Awards: Theatre World Award for Yentl, 1976.

Sidelights

Broadway star Tovah Feldshuh has built her career taking on roles that reflect her Jewish heritage. She was the original "Yentl" in the New York theater production of the same name that went on to become a 1983 Barbra Streisand film, and transformed herself into formidable Israeli leader Golda Meir for an acclaimed 2003 play, Golda's Balcony. "Feldshuh gives such a fiercely committed performance," noted New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger, further asserting "she does more than just resurrect Meir. She embodies an entire country, its hopes and paranoia and anger."

Born Terri Sue Feldshuh in New York City in 1952, the future Broadway star was the daughter of Sidney, an attorney, and Lillian Feldshuh, and grew up in suburban Scarsdale, New York. A talented pianist as a youth, she studied philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College, but took acting classes on the side in New York City with the legendary drama teacher Uta Hagen. At one point, Feldshuh's non-Jewish boyfriend urged her to change first name to the Jewish-sounding "Tovah." As Feldshuh recalled in an interview with Rocky Mountain News journalist Lisa Bornstein, "It made no sense. It was ill-advised, it was extremely naive of me to keep the name. I probably should have become Terri Fairchild; it would have changed my whole career."

Still torn between the performing arts or a more traditional career path, Feldshuh was on a waiting list for Harvard Law School when she won a fellowship toward a graduate drama degree at the University of Minnesota. While there, she made her professional stage debut at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in a 1971 production of Cyrano de Bergerac, where she was also the understudy for Dianne Wiest, another future Broadway star. The production morphed into the musical Cyrano, and Feldshuh was tapped to appear in it as a foodseller and nun. Before New York City, however, it had a Boston tryout, and the original director was fired. "Heads started to roll," Feldshuh recalled in an interview with Peter Filichia of Newark's Star-Ledger newspaper, "and I feared for mine. But then the director wanted someone to do a cartwheel, and that I can do. That little thing kept me in the show." It made it to the Palace Theater in New York City in 1973.

That same year, Feldshuh won a part in a television movie, Scream, Pretty Peggy, but returned to the stage with the title role in Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Playhouse for a 1974-75 run. That play went on to become Yentl at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre for a successful 1975-76 run, which boosted Feldshuh's career immensely and earned her an Antoinette Perry (Tony) nomination. She failed to land the lead in the movie version a few years later, however, which starred Barbra Streisand.

Other television roles for Feldshuh included a 1976 run on the ABC daytime drama Ryan's Hope, and one of the leads in the epic NBC miniseries broadcast in 1978, Holocaust. She toured in the title role in Peter Pan that same year, and also made her feature-film debut in Nunzio. In the early 1980s, she spent time in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre, where she appeared in several Shakespeare classics. That stage was also the site of her first one-woman show A Touch of Tovah, in 1981.

Feldshuh remained busy for much of the 1980s. She appeared in the films Daniel and Brewster's Millions, headed back to the New York stage for a lead in She Stoops to Conquer in 1984, and did television work as well. She had a recurring role as Danielle Melnick on NBC's Law & Order for several years, and reprised her one-woman act in 1996 with Tovah: Out of Her Mind!, which also toured several cities. Yet by then Feldshuh was in her forties, and was beginning to be typecast as a middle-aged Jewish mother-type. Despite this, she claims that one of her favorite roles was in the 1999 Diane Lane-Viggo Mortensen film A Walk on the Moon. She was also a sympathetic parent in the 2001 romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein.

After starring as Broadway legend Tallulah Bankhead in Tallulah's Party at the Kaufman Theatre in 1998, Feldshuh both co-wrote and starred in Tallulah Hallelujah! at the Douglas Fairbanks Theater in New York City in 2000. Feldshuh delivered several classic songs from the dramatic actress and chanteuse's repertoire, and bantered with the audience as she inhabited the iconic actress known for her fondness for liquor and sexually liberated attitudes in the 1940s and '50s. In 2002, Feldshuh reprised her own solo cabaret act in Tovah: Still Out of Her Mind! .

Feldshuh won rave reviews for her role as the late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in Golda's Balcony, which had a successful run at the Helen Hayes Theatre in 2003 and earned the actor her fourth Tony nomination. The one-woman show's focal point is the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbors. Meir's own story—along with that of Israel's—is told in flashbacks by Feldshuh, and its narrative arc hinges upon Meir's decision whether to use nuclear weapons in retaliation. A Daily Variety review from Marilyn Stasio gave Feldshuh's stage achievement high marks, calling it "a commanding performance. It acknowledges Meir's stature as a strong-willed politician who, at a time of international crisis, reassured a worried world that she was, indeed, in charge of her country's destiny."

Feldshuh lives in an apartment on Central Park West in New York City with her husband, attorney Andrew Harris-Levy, with whom she has two children. Since her Uta Hagen classes, Feldshuh says she has almost always kept working with others to perfect her craft, and issues the same advice to a future generation of Broadway hopefuls. "You've got a big conveyor belt in New York City, and when you audition, you want to stop the conveyor belt on you," she noted in an interview with Back Stage writer Ellas Stimac. "And you want to do that when you're young. So good training is very important."

Sources

Books

Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, vol. 45, Gale Group, 2002.

Periodicals

Back Stage, April 10, 1998, p. 13; January 19, 2001, p. A3.

Daily Variety, October 16, 2003, p. 5.

New York Times, April 1, 2003, p. E5.

Rocky Mountain News, November 24, 2003, p. 8D.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), November 15, 2002, p. 4.

Variety, October 16, 2000, p. 38.

—Carol Brennan



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