Legions of women from the mundane to A-listers have long opined about complicated relationships with Jewish mothers. Four-time Tony and two-time Emmy nominee Tovah Feldshuh finally made peace with her mother at age 40.
Moreover, she released her new memoir “Lilyville: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I Have Played” detailing her stellar career on stage and screen overlaid with this memoir reflecting how mother Lily and Tovah choreographed their dance against American cultural changes and shifting expectations of women.
Feldshuh appeared virtually at the Book Festival of the MJCCA April 15.
In her words, “Mother gave the spotlight to Dad, who gave the spotlight to me. …. Contrast my brother’s bar mitzvah to mine. He gave his speech from the bimah followed by a country club luncheon with an orchestra. I had a Friday night service with men doing the blessings, sharing my party in the basement with high school musicians.”
Throughout the book, she addresses, “Mom, look at me.” Then she emotes, “That’s why I was determined to perform on the stage, to get love and attention from the audience.”
In the book, Feldshuh immerses readers in a journey through the acts and scenes of her personal and professional life, from growing up a young Jewish tomboy in the refined community of Scarsdale, N.Y., to becoming Broadway royalty alongside Christopher Plummer and Barbra Streisand, held together by the twisting thread of her often-complicated relationship with Lily. From Golda to Ginsburg, Yentl to Mama Rose, Tallulah to the Queen of Mean, Tovah Feldshuh has always played powerful women who aren’t afraid to sit at the table with the big boys and rule their world. But offstage, Tovah struggled to fulfill the one role she never auditioned for: Lily Feldshuh’s only daughter.
Feldshuh’s book is written like a theater piece, the form she knows best: Act 1, Act II, Act III along with Scenes, Intermissions, Curtain Call, Exit Music, and Cast Party. Feldshuh earned this rite after starring in what is believed the longest running one-man show in Broadway history “Golda’s Balcony,” in addition to “Cyrano,” miniseries “Holocaust,” “Pippin,” “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Sisters in Law” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and dozens of other roles about strong, colorful women. She was especially enamored with RBG. When I asked her how she wanted to be remembered, she said “Tell them that I was funny.”
No stranger to Atlanta, Feldshuh appeared at Ahavath Achim Synagogue in March 2014 with a performance she crafted to honor Stuart Eizenstat. [She reprised for me on the phone in full voice, “I had a dream about you, Stuart…”]. Later, when she visited Washington, D.C., Eizenstat escorted her to all the sights.
She recalled, “I lived in Atlanta for six weeks while shooting ‘The Walking Dead.’ Steve Selig loaned me a beautiful apartment. Also, I played Golda at your Atlanta Alliance Theatre.”
Some chose to make their stage name “less Jewish” in contrast to Feldshuh, whose given name was Terri Sue, converted to Tovah, her Hebrew name. In terms of changing times, she recalled, “Mom was born on a dining table in the Bronx and lived through World War I, the Spanish flu, The Great Depression and World War II before she was 30. Women couldn’t even vote then. All the bras were burned when I got to college (Sarah Lawrence) with expectations to be a homemaker. My brother went to Harvard. We called him doctor [Ph.D.]; she called him ‘G-d.’ That was a family joke.”
A photograph in the book shows Lily’s advice to Tovah on her wedding day, “You can do anything you want now, you’re marrying a Harvard lawyer.” Tovah counseled her own daughter (who studied physics at MIT) about succeeding in marriage. “Shut one eye, and never leave the playing field.”
Some practical advice about dating Lily gave Tovah was the importance of quickly meeting someone’s family whom you are dating. “Run,” she said, “Don’t walk.” Subsequent to that Tovah broke up with a fellow whose family she visited.
Bottom line: Run, don’t walk to read “Lilyville.”
In addition, Feldshuh revealed to the AJT that she just signed to star in “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” portraying psychologist/media personality Ruth Westheimer. It will premiere virtually and be performed live at future dates.