By Andrew Gans
15 Nov 2013
Respected singing actress Tovah Feldshuh faced a Herculean task this past summer, succeeding Andrea Martin in her Tony-winning role of Berthe in the Tony-winning revival of Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson's Pippin at the Music Box Theatre. Feldshuh, however, is no stranger to demanding roles — she played a record-breaking Broadway run as Golda Meir in William Gibson's one-woman tour de force Golda's Balcony — and she was remarkably undaunted by the challenge that lay ahead. In fact, the acclaimed actress, whose Broadway resume boasts Tony-nominated performances in Yentl, Sarava, Lend Me a Tenor and the aforementioned Balcony, knew from the moment she saw the opening night of this critically acclaimed revival of Pippin that the role of the effervescent, lesson-teaching grandmother Berthe, including its acrobatic requirements, were well within her reach. I recently had the chance to catch up with the gifted artist, who spoke about her high-flying return to Broadway as well as one of her dream roles; that interview follows.
Question: Last time we spoke, you were starring in Hello, Dolly! at Paper Mill Playhouse and mentioned you wanted to come back to Broadway in a musical.
Tovah Feldshuh: Yes, I wanted to co-star in a musical, but this is just fine. This is even better!
Question: How did the role in Pippin come about?
Feldshuh: I was at opening night as a guest of the Weisslers, and I sat in the third row center orchestra, and I was so stunned by the piece, and by how well it had been reconceived by Diane Paulus, and so moved by it. First of all, I congratulated the Weisslers at the theatre and said, “I don’t care what the notices say. You have the biggest hit of the season, and I want you to know that I cheer you for bringing this to Broadway.” I then left a message on their home phone just thanking them for this piece of work and for their constant work in the New York theatre. There are two questions you never have to ask with a hit under the Weissler banner. One is, “Are we selling tickets?” And [two is], “Are we going to run?” With Pippin it doesn’t even come up because it was a great idea to begin with, what Diane Paulus did, and the execution of the idea I think is utterly remarkable throughout the piece. Between Patina [Miller] and Matthew [James Thomas] and Rachel [Bay Jones] and Charlotte [D’Amboise] and [Terry Mann], and the extraordinary circus artists, they’re real artists, and, of course, our dancers and singers, and hopefully my role as well, there isn’t a dull moment. It’s a new idea.
Question: How did you know that you could tackle the acrobatic aspect of the role?
Feldshuh: You know, the truth is I don’t know how I knew. It wasn’t like I was trying to push through a door in any way. I just was making an observation: “You know what she does, I can do that.” I think I’m extremely athletic. I probably had just gotten home from climbing...I climbed a mountain that was higher than Machu Picchu to look down on that ruin in Peru. What an extraordinary trip! I just said that one sentence, and then two months later - it opened April 25, and by June 25 I got a call from Barry Weissler saying,“What are you doing in August?” And I said, “I don’t know, what am I doing in August?” And he said, “Would you come in and play on the trapeze for us?” And, basically, I think they rightfully and diligently and wisely wanted to see if the trapeze could be a part of my world.