tovah feldshuh

By Eileen Katz

You may recognize her as Deanna Monroe from television’s “The Walking Dead” or you may have seen her stellar performance as Golda Meir on Broadway in “Golda’s Balcony”, which set a record as the longest-running one-woman play in Broadway history. And last week she played “The Queen of Mean”, Leona Helmsley, in a new musical reading only to be followed this week by being featured in Symphony Space’s annual Wall to Wall extravaganza celebrating the music and lyrics of Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz. Ms. Feldshuh will be performing “No Time At All” from Pippin. She had appeared in the show on Broadway. Mr. Schwartz is the composer and lyricist.

Why the West Side, Tovah?

I came to Broadway in 1973 to play in Cyrano with Christopher Plummer at The Palace Theater. I lived on 111 West 11th Street, then 2nd Ave and 17th Street. Then, when things got fancy, after “Yentyl”, I had a place on Beekman Place, but it was very hard to get to Broadway by public transportation. So it became very clear to me it was going to be a disaster for me to stay there and get to the theater for work. So my first apartment that I rented on the West side was 160 West 71st Street. It was right next to, what? The 72nd Street express stop! You went from 72nd Street to 42nd Street and I was in! Yentyl was at The O’Neil Theater and that was the way I could keep myself on time. I’ve always loved the West side, but it was it’s direct transit route to where I always dreamed of working that nailed it for me. For financial reasons in those days, the city was a different place. I remember it feeling dangerous at places. I remember I lived at 71st Street and Broadway and you stayed on Broadway. The Bagel Nosh was there and Victor’s Café was there on the corner of Amsterdam and that’s as far as you went. Columbus? Oh no. You stayed on Broadway. Riding your bike in the park, which I do every day now, was out of the question. Walking in the park after dark was out of the question. Walking in the park during the day, for that matter, was out of the question!

So why did you stay?

Well, I loved the theater and I wanted to be on Broadway and it was no mistake that by having a Broadway career so young in my life — I was 22, 23 — I was so lucky to stumble on these roles. And I wanted to stay in a place that I could afford but also, interestingly, at a time when so many Jewish families were focused on assimilating, I was drawn to this neighborhood because it had a big Jewish community. It had Jewish values. Like Lenny Bruce said: “If you live in New York, you’re Jewish.” It didn’t matter what religion you were. It had Jewish values like heavy studying, thirsting for intellectual knowledge. And I always loved New York because I love a vertical environment. I love bumping in to people. I love having a community.

Tell me something you’ve experienced here that reinforced that neighborhood/community feeling for you.

As I mentioned before, I ride my bike everywhere, and I got unintentionally doored. It’s my bike. It’s not a CitiBike. It’s a Mommy bike. Nobody ever wants to take it. It’s an English racer with a basket in the front. I keep my workout clothes in there. It used to have a child seat on there when I would drive my kids to the 92nd St Y where they used to go. Anyway, when I got doored last week on West End Avenue by a Con Ed man and I fell, his door handle hit my handlebar and knee and I fell in to the street, and I was lucky I didn’t get killed, he came out of that truck, bless him, he was so upset, he took me in his arms saying “are you all right, are you all right?” I said: “Thank God, I’m all right.” He said: “What do you need to do? Do you need to call my Supervisor? How do we make this right?” It was remarkable, this man who works in the neighborhood which has come such a long way. And I said to him my usual sentence: “Tell your mother she did a good job.” When people behave properly, that’s what I say.

What’s one of the most noticeable changes you seen since you’ve been living up here?

I would say for me, it was when Guiliani was mayor. He was a great mayor. A great king. He took our city and he made it safe. I’m a dyed in the wool Democrat, but I supported this man because he changed my life as a mother. And then Mayor Bloomberg was heaven on earth. So we had really 20 safe years. The crime rate dropped 51% and it became a new city. Now I can ride my back home in the evenings from the theater, right through the park. In the summer, the park is a little crowded, but I have my lights and I’m speedy. I’m very strong, especially when I was doing “Pippin” I was a few pounds lighter and completely muscle bound! Climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro helped too. I did that with my son last year.

How is living here different from living any other place?

It’s corny, and it’s a cliché, this idea that New Yorkers are all a family. Everybody thinks New York is so fierce. And it is fiercely excellent, is what it is. New York is as neurotic as living any other place, but it’s a neurosis I understand. It’s a neurosis that’s run by excellence and merit. When I’m on the West coast, and I would like to star in a series again, so please don’t think I don’t love you West coast, but when I’m there you feel much more the value of people judging themselves by the value of what they earn and what they can show for it and what they look like. Here, in the artistic community, we’re still in the excellence game. At least I am! And I have enough people that I surround myself with that I feel that’s the “A” team. The “A” team isn’t based on your wealth. It’s based on your standards.

What are some of your favorite places to go to on the West side?

Well for sure, Lincoln Center of course. I have a pool I go to on top of the 1 right across from Lincoln Center. I love the good health clubs. Of course, Equinox is extraordinary. I miss The Popover Café. We still have Barney Greengrass! I feel like it’s old home week there! All the food you’re not supposed to eat in one place! My whole childhood of being an American Jew. I of course love my street, Central Park West. I love the addition of all the Columbus Circle fancies.

What are the “fancies”?

You know, all those stores in the Time Warner Center. Then I go down to the food court and I have a great time in Whole Foods. It’s so easy to eat healthy there. I love the walks on the West side. The Aids walk. The Breast Cancer walk. I love living near the park. I put my children in tennis lessons on the city courts. I’m a horse woman. I used to ride at the local stables here and it made me so sad to see them close. I love Ernesto’s the jewelry store. They’re wonderful. And I love Miyako! They’re this little restaurant. They have got the best deal for their fish soup. It is divine! And generous with its protein. The different fish and seafood! You get a big container it’s about $8 and it lasted two meals in our fridge. I can’t get over it. They are great. And they deliver! There’s that naughty store, Chocolate Works. I try to avoid it. I love my synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun. Like most wacky things, we pray in a church a lot. My son got Bar Mitzvah’d at the Cathedral of St. Paul and St. Andrew. I call it Baptist Judaism because we sing until we think we’ve found God. You sing and sing and sing. You’re whole face vibrates. You think you’re in some altered existence!

What makes someone a West sider?

Freedom of wardrobe. When I used to go to Spence, which we love, I and one other really famous actress…

Can I ask who?

All right, it was Sigourney. We were the most poorly dressed of everybody. Everybody would show up so gorgeous. I think they were probably dropping their kids off then going to their law offices or whatever. Anna Wintour was there. I wear Brandon’s (my 32 year old son) I still wear his snow pants, his work out pants, his rubber boots. All this from 7th and 8th grade. They’re still good. I’ll be wearing those till I’m half dead. And Amanda (my daughter) I wear her prom dress. I met the President of the United in her short cocktail prom dress. It’s what she wore when she was 16 and it’s gorgeous. So, freedom of wardrobe. I don’t feel I need to be chic. I can go out in my wacky clothes and nobody bats an eyelash in this neighborhood. Very forgiving.

Here’s the “Boxers or Briefs” question: Central or Riverside? Which park?

In my heart of heart of hearts, Riverside, and I’ll tell you why. I like it because I still love watching a moving river. With things coming and going. Upstream and downstream with a purpose and a changing palette. And I still love the sunset. I would move back to Riverside and get a big apartment with lots of windows and watch the sun set from my window seats.

Could you talk about something that you’ve noticed a lot of West siders have in common?

Well, I think it’s similarities in their apartments and the way they’re furnished that has stood out to me. To have heirlooms and a bit of grandma’s trunk is a perfectly acceptable, intellectual, marvelous, memory-filled way to live. Like this forest green couch. This is the couch my husband, Andy, kissed me for the first time on and I’ve saved it. It makes me feel comfortable.

If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one thing from Zabar’s what would it be?

I love Zabar’s! They do everything for me. I have to figure out whether I want the caviar or the scotch salmon or whether I want those rolls. Those rolls when you exit that have the huge amounts of nuts and raisins in them. They’re ridiculous. I’d take a slice of every piece of sliced smoked fish that is at that counter. I’m mad for them. And when I’m feeling really flush, I send baskets from them because they’re expensive, but they’re worth it. They really really are.

When they declare “Tovah Feldshuh” day on the Upper West Side, how would you like people to celebrate?

What a beautiful question! Everybody needs to bring food. There’s no party without food. And of course, the paper products. We need a party store here that listens to its neighborhood. Whole Foods, they hear me. D’Agostino lets me plug my phone in to charge when I’m there, but we need a paper store that has things to support Kwanzaa, Purim, Passover, Christmas, Chinese New Year and now Tovah Feldshuh day. Yes, this is a pointed comment and you know who you are. So there would be food, drink and we’d do something together. We’d learn something together. I don’t know if it’s just a block party where you could only organize dancing or whether you could teach tai chi. That would be my ultimate! The entire Upper West Side doing tai chi. There’s a lot of forgiveness in that! Shut Central Park and you have teachers every block and they’d do their thing.

See Tovah Feldhsuh and several other great performers this weekend in Wall to Wall Stephen Schwartz.

To read all of our “Why the West Side” columns, click here.

ART, COLUMNS | 15 comments | permalink
    1. 21D says:

      What a wonderful interview! Thanks.

    2. Frank says:

      Another winning interview. Keep them coming!

    3. Shalom Stavsky says:

      Very nice interview, but the picture is from an earlier time. I would’ve liked to have seen a picture of Tovah now.

    4. Christine E says:

      LOVE this series. Thank you for publishing!

    5. Izzy says:

      Love this series as always, but found it a bit hard to follow her train of thought here.

    6. robert musik says:

      glad to have you in the ‘hood Tovah! Your mother did a good job…

    7. Ellen says:

      Love this interview, yes Tovah, your mom did a good job! Do watch out for doors and traffic when on your bicycle, traffic seems more aggressive these days, no?

    8. Nelson says:

      Tovah and I must have been having parallel UWS lives…I agree with her about so many things. Especially her reflections on our 20 years under the Mayoral run of Giuliani & Bloomberg, Riverside Park and singing til you find your spirituality. Great read.

    9. Paul RL says:

      Tovah, thank you for making last few seasons of The Walking Dead so great!! Big fan of yours & love having you as a neighbor.

    10. Maria says:

      I knew I felt a connection to her when I watched her on The Walking Dead. It’s that New York Jewish/Italian/Food/UWS/Smart Girl/Love the Parks thing!

    11. Braham Horwitz says:

      Great article. FYI, Victor’s was on 71st & Columbus, not Amsterdam. Miss it.

    12. 16B says:

      Victor’s Cafe was on NW corner of 71st and Columbus. Had white bean soup on Sundays. Fine roast pork. Very good Cuban sandwiches.

      Gorgeous picture of a younger Tovah. Would have preferred to see a current photo.

    13. Nick Bacon says:

      I, too, miss Claremont Riding Academy.

      However, Chateau Stables have brought riding horses back to Central Park!

      They bring the horse to meet you near Tavern on the Green and provide guided rides on the historic bridle path.