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

By Andrew Gans
15 Nov 2013

Feldshuh in Golda's Balcony.
Photo by Aaron Epstein

Question: How did you go about approaching the song, "No Time at All"?
Feldshuh: From the inside out. That this 23, 24-year-old Stephen Schwartz, this young man wrote, “Here is a secret I never have told. Maybe you will understand why. I believe that if I refuse to grow old, I can stay young till I die.” And, it kills me because as I leave my fifties, I see the door of the first two-thirds of my life in the past and the door opening to the last third. My mother is past 100. I hope that’s in store for me. But either you climb Mount Kilimanjaro now, or you won’t be able to next year, and I actually am going to climb it next year after I leave Pippin! I’m an adventure traveler; that’s my big hobby. I earn my living, and I spend that money on buying experience. I’d rather buy an experience than a dress any day. So I judge a lot of my trips by altitude.… I’m healthy, no health considerations, I can deal with the altitude. There will come a time very soon where you can’t go fooling with altitude. So I dealt with the song from the inside out and dedicated my entire performance to my mother Lillian, who’s hilarious. She says, “I don’t know how I’m gonna die, got a suggestion?”…I take her to dinner between shows every Wednesday. And, I had a great deal of offered help if I needed it [from] Charlie Alterman, the conductor, who’s magnificent, and Nancy Herrington, the assistant director to Diane, who was with me every minute. I did exactly what the cast did. I wrote a backstory and performed it for the company. I was really lucky. There were certain synchronicities that were very fortunate in my favor, and the first big one, and it’s very big, was that I was the first replacement, so I have all the first company.

Question: What is it like for you now that you’re comfortable performing this show?
Feldshuh: It’s the thrill of my life. Doing that trapeze act is the thrill of my life. I’m still not frightened, I’m very excited. And when the principal catcher Yannick left, so brilliant he is that when Andrea Martin gave her speech at the Tony’s she thanked him. She said, “It’s not me, it’s all Yannick.” He had the hands of a God because he could balance us even if we made a mistake, he could compensate for our lack of knowledge. But now I have a new catcher. His name is Preston, and he’s marvelous, and I know my stuff. I work with him and his understudy Ken, a beautiful man, who came two weeks ago. And I train every day. You don’t have to train on two-show days, but I requested to do it. I said, "Get me the understudy. I’ll do it with him so that if anything happens, if any injuries happen, we are prepared." And, it’s the thrill of my life! I went out there the first time shot out of a cannon. You have one put-in rehearsal…It was that Friday, and I went on Friday night. So you better do your homework outside of your rehearsal hours.

Question: What do you think is the message of the show?
Feldshuh: I think the show poses the question, “What makes an extraordinary life?” What do you feel defines that factor? Is it pyrotechnics of glory and medals and renown and fame, or is it the depth of profoundly loving someone else and standing by them your whole life, no matter how much you know about them? Every human being is complicated, and every human being has his pockmarks. Love is standing by someone with their pockmarks, with the belly and the graying hair, and more than that the annoying habits that are quotidian. I’m in a 37-year relationship, so when I do something in the house that my husband would prefer I not do, we’re talking 37 years of that and vice versa. And things change. When I married Andy, he had a lot of allergies, and as he grew older he sneezes much less, hardly at all. He’s now a vegan, I mean a pescetarian, and maybe that’s where the allergies were hidden. I much admire I have a partner, like myself, who wants to live, and we want to live vividly but very differently…



Question: How do you follow performing on a trapeze on stage? What’s next for you?
Feldshuh: I don’t know. I know that on Jan. 22 I will be performing Golda’s Balcony for seven performances in an 1,100-seat theatre in the South. I’m contracted to go to the Parker Playhouse for seven performances - that will immediately follow Pippin. But I can tell you this, may I only accept roles that I love as much as Berthe, because as the door does not widen on the expanse of time that you’re going to be in this body, in this lifetime, I want to do what I love to do. Even Diane is known for wanting to be with people she likes and is comfortable with. And, she’s younger than I, but she touches that sense of “My God, life is short enough, why should we hassle with people who are not good team players?” And, I think the company of Pippin is a fine group of human beings under tremendously demanding circumstances.

What would I like to do next? I’d like to play a regent, a monarch, on Broadway, in whatever form it visits me. [Maybe] Victoria Regina or just some great role of stature and elegance. Or, of course, I’ve always wanted to do Woman of the Year. Get me with the right guy and the right chemistry, and let’s go! I played Hepburn twice. I’m a great admirer of hers. “I’m one of the girls, who’s one of the boys.” It resonates for me. I wouldn’t mind doing that next if it came my way.

[Visit PippinTheMusical.com.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.