Arts Camp alumna Tovah Feldshuh Takes the Stage in Broadway’s “Funny Girl”
Feldshuh (IAC/NMC 63-65) reflects on a life in acting and her transformational experience at Interlochen.
On September 6 at the August Wilson Theatre, Tony and Emmy Award nominee and Interlochen Arts Camp alumna Tovah Feldshuh took to the stage in the Broadway reboot of Funny Girl. Feldshuh plays the role of “Mrs. Brice,” mother of the lead character. When the musical opened for the first time in 1964, it quickly became iconic for featuring Barbra Streisand in her breakout performance. Now, alongside fellow Emmy Award nominee Lea Michele, Feldshuh brings to life the multilayered dynamic between a protective, tough-love mother and her passionately ambitious daughter.
The show centers on real-life actress Fanny Brice, following her rise to vaudeville stardom in WWI-era New York City. Though not a typical beauty, Fanny carves out a career in Ziegfeld's Follies, the most renowned theatrical revue in NYC at that time. Along the way, she begins a rollercoaster of a relationship with the handsome gambling addict Nick Arnstein. Her mother, Mrs Brice, does what she can to protect her gifted daughter from wrong choices.
“My job is to rivet on Fanny, be there for her, and love her too much,” says Feldshuh of the role.
Funny Girl is just the latest chapter of a career that has spanned five decades and earned Feldshuh acclaim on both stage and screen. Feldshuh has starred in numerous Broadway productions, acted in several television series, and toured the country with her one-woman shows.
Her acting journey began many years ago at Interlochen Arts Camp. As a fourteen-year-old, Feldshuh discovered her talent for theatre and formed some of the most important friendships of her life.
A transformational Interlochen experience
Feldshuh grew up with an interest in the arts, but she never considered acting until coming to Interlochen. When Interlochen Arts Camp was still known as National Music Camp, Feldshuh attended for three summers, majoring in Piano, Dance, and Drama.
“Next to changing my name from Terri Sue to Tovah, Interlochen was one of the greatest turning points in my life,” she says.
Feldshuh entered Interlochen in 1963 with dreams of pursuing a career as a pianist. Though she’d been a standout musician at her small school in New York, Interlochen’s high standards challenged her to reevaluate her plans. When she didn’t garner the concerto awards she had hoped to win, Feldshuh decided to apply herself elsewhere. She chose musical theatre.
Her first role at Interlochen was “Cousin Hebe” in the Gilbert and Sullivan musical HMS Pinafore. She was cast for the role by beloved Interlochen operetta instructor Dude Stephenson.
“I think I sang about three or four lines,” Feldshuh laughs. “But I realized, if I was chosen out of 110 students, maybe there was some promise in this area of the arts. I felt my early encouragement in musical theater was a good sign.”
The next year, she landed the starring role in the musical Little Mary Sunshine. The following year brought roles in not one but three shows: the musical Death Takes a Holiday, the musical comedy Once Upon A Mattress, and the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance.
Feldshuh’s continued success at Interlochen Arts Camp led her to pursue acting beyond college to the Guthrie Theater. From there, she went to Broadway—and the rest was history.
But Feldshuh did more than find her future career at Interlochen. She also developed several long-lasting friendships. One of them, in particular, would prove extremely important in Feldshuh’s life.
“I met a girl who looked just like me and we became best friends. Her name was Laurie Levy,” Feldshuh remembers.
The two girls bonded over their shared love of the arts as well as tennis. Feldshuh visited Levy at her Washington, D.C. home multiple times, but didn’t meet Levy’s Harvard-attending brother until years later. On February 16, 1976, Andrew H. Levy came backstage to see Feldshuh after watching the Washington's Birthday matinee of Yentl. The two wedded the following year.
“At National Music Camp, I found my life's calling and my life’s partner,” Feldshuh says.
The power of theatre: evolving towards empathy
The titular role in Yentl marked the beginning of Feldshuh’s rise to prominence. Other roles have included Israeli Prime Minister “Golda Meir” in Golda's Balcony (which set the Broadway record for the longest-running one-woman play), “Irena Gut” in Irena's Vow, and television roles like “Helena Slomova” in Holocaust, “Deanna Monroe” on AMC's The Walking Dead, “Naomi Bunch” in Crazy Ex Girlfriend, and “Danielle Melnick” in Law & Order. The multitalented actress has also won recognition for her work in cabaret.
Feldshuh demonstrates an unrelenting passion for her work. In addition to performing in Funny Girl, she spent the past summer working on two movies and a television series.
“I certainly have the discipline and desire to do that,” she says. “There may be a few sleepless weeks ahead, but I’m hoping that it will lead to mastery.”
Despite the challenges, Feldshuh finds her work to be incredibly fulfilling.
“A story well-told is the core of my job. When I do it well, I've learned much, and I hope I've also enhanced the audience's lives,” she says.
Even after a long career, Feldshuh finds herself continually inspired by the transformational power of theatre. On the stage, an actress reinvents herself; in doing so, she invites her audiences to consider the possibility of change in their own lives.
“I have devoted all of my artistic life to transformation. The hope of change, transformation, evolving, becoming other beings besides yourself, leads to two things: first, the optimistic possibility of changing the self. And secondly, optimism engenders empathy,” says Feldshuh. “With empathy, the world might be saved. Empathy is the greatest necessity for the evolution of the human spirit.”
As Feldshuh points out, “Without empathy, how do you enjoy the mosaic of our uniqueness?”
Empathy is the greatest necessity for the evolution of the human spirit.
Reaching for the stars
At the end of the day, Feldshuh hopes her successes will encourage others—especially her family.
“It's a lesson to my own beautiful children and grandchildren that they are entitled to their dreams. They're entitled to reach for the stars so they can land on the roof. If they reach for the roof, they’ll never get off the ground,” she says, quoting her one-woman show, TOVAH: OUT OF HER MIND!
Feldshuh has been reaching for the stars since she started. She’s not planning on stopping anytime soon.