DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Nominee and Pippin Star Tovah Feldshuh

By Andrew Gans
15 Nov 2013

Feldshuh in Pippin.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: What was that like working on a trapeze for the first time?
Feldshuh: Well, I had a swing set as a little girl in Scarsdale, and we still have it. My mother is going to be 103. We have an acre of land, and in those years people didn’t build pools and tennis courts in their back lawn, you just had big back lawns. And, my mother would say, “Go out” – My birth name is Terry Sue - “Go out Terry Sue and look at the sky.” And I’d lie down and look at the sky, but I had my swing set. And it had two swings and then a metal bar on chains, which would be a little trapeze. And then that pedal pusher thing, where you have two people that push each other higher and higher…You get on with your best friend and go higher and higher. You could do it alone as well. And, I used to, alone, do everything, get on one swing and fly up alone…So going up on the trapeze was going back to my earliest memories in Scarsdale, where my father had promised my mother a big house on a hill, and he built that house for her, and we moved in because I was born. Going up on the trapeze was like being three or four years old and discovering a new place in the universe to hang out.

They were very concerned, and they kept saying, “Are you scared?” and I said, “No, I’m not scared.” I was astonished. Again, I was just observing, I wasn’t protesting. I want to make very, very clear because I not only love Andrea Martin, I love great talent, and there’s always room at the top for everybody. When I said, “You know what Andrea Martin’s doing, I can do that,” it was merely an observation. I actually did say, “You’ll probably never need me,” because I thought she’d stay in it forever. So, she wanted to take a vacation, and I was trained to replace her for 12 shows, and I was trained very, very quickly. I was on the trapeze, and I remember the audition was designed to be a possible 90-minute session, and it was 24 minutes. I got on the trapeze, they asked me to show them this and that on the mat. I got down off the trapeze and thanked them, and then I biked home. And, I was walking my bike up 45th and 8th to go back where I live, and Barry came bounding down the street with his script in his hand, and said, “Where are you going?” He handed me the full script and basically said, “We want you,” and I said like any good child and wife of a lawyer, “I hope it works out.” And, I got on my bike and rode back home. I remember my sweet agent said, “You’re riding your bike to an audition?” And I said, “I’m an athlete, and I may not do trapeze, but let the last thing I do before I enter that Music Box Theatre be something that has some rigor.”

Question: What was the rehearsal process like, joining a show that’s already in progress?
Feldshuh: I’ve never done it in my entire career. The first thing is I was replacing, which is very different than understudying or standing by. I’ve never done any of that, nor will I. I did it at the Guthrie the first year of my career, and I’ll never do it again. I understudied all the size seven girls for two years, two seasons, 18 months, and never went on. Some leading ladies were nice, and some leading ladies were not nice. I think when you come from love, which we really are obligated to do in this ever-growing microcosm in this shtetl we live in called planet earth. When you come from love, you behave one way. When you come from fear, you behave in another way, so when you have a little understudy and you’re afraid of being replaced in the first place, it doesn’t matter who’s your understudy, you’re a creep to them… I found it very distasteful. Anybody who understudies me has a privilege because I love and take care of my understudies. I take them out. I give them my secrets. I don’t begrudge them what they need to do, not only to do their job but to give me a day off! [Laughs.]


Feldshuh at opening night
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

So I got the job offer in June. They wanted me to go on July 22, and it was very clear by July 4 that it would have been dangerous to go on July 22. Andrea decided to take her vacation toward the middle of August, which worked out well. … She would take off a weekend, then come back for a week, then take off a week. So I got the job, and I immediately asked to come in immediately before contracts were signed. We had a gentlemen’s agreement. I came in with my iPhone and my iPad, and I was allowed to be with the trainers on my own ticket, no salary here, and I asked them what did I need to develop. I knew I’d only be brought in the last three weeks, and during the last three weeks, I’d only be brought in 10-12 minutes on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for the trapeze. It was extremely fast. So I basically had ten small sessions to learn what I was doing. So like any person who wants to do their best, I said, “What do you need me to do?” And they said, “Do this exercise, do that exercise, hang upside down, take Pilates, strengthen your core,” and I did everything Philip Rosenberg told me to do every day. Then they showed me the routine, and I was allowed to watch Andrea once, so I watched her and studied that and then I had them film me with all my mistakes, and I studied that, and I just started to mentally and physically prepare.

Question: What was it like the first time you went on?
Feldshuh: Well, what’s so brilliant about the part is that she hasn’t performed it in at least two decades. So we actually had that real circumstance because I never performed it. So we had these rehearsals, and I watched every show, 24 shows from the time formal rehearsals started. And I watched shows even before that. And, sure enough, I go on, and we had a spectacular weekend, and it was Aug. 12, and I’m not hired the following week. I go to the stage management, and I say, “This isn’t right. They need to work out an arrangement. I need to be salaried, and I need to keep coming in. You do not want me to have ten days without training.” And the Weisslers were very cooperative. They were very good… But it was worth their while. I’m very, very diligent. I came every day, and sure enough, four days before I’m supposed to come on, it was a Saturday matinee, and the stage manager comes up to me and says, “[Andrea’s] back has gone out. Can you go on?” And I said, “Whatever is good for you, is good for me. Whatever the team wants, I’m there.” And I was prepared…I wanted to do it well so very badly. I really wanted to do it well. I didn’t want the show to suffer in any way because I was the first replacement. I didn’t want anything to sag. I really understood my obligation of being flanked by talent of that magnitude and by a director who was so often the smartest person in the room.