If you ask Tovah Feldshuh, she is going to live to 104.
That’s because the versatile and acclaimed stage and screen actress has decided to stop living in chronological linear time.
Having climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year, hiked glaciers a few months ago, visited Siena for the biannual Palio horse race and countless other adventures, the 62-year-old Walking Dead and Yentl star has decided the time to live is now.
She will be sharing her viewpoint in a cabaret performance Aging is Optional (‘Cause God I Hope it is!) at the RRazz Room at the Prince Theater on Sept. 24.
“I wrote Aging is Optional (‘Cause God I Hope it is!) because that’s exactly how I feel, I mean 150 percent precisely, emotionally,” Feldshuh said. “My beloved, wonderful husband just lost his mother June 23, and I lost my mother just 24 months ago. It gets very, very clear when you are an orphan, where there’s no barrier between you and eternity, and your generation no longer has parents, it’s very clear that if you have good wine, if you’re a wine collector, the time to start drinking the good bottles of wine is now. There’s no longer time to wait or waste.”
Feldshuh — who chose to be known by her Hebrew name, Tovah, rather than her birth name, Terri Sue — decided to be an actress after she got on the waitlist for Harvard Law School. Fortuitously, she won a fellowship that same year to the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
After spending two years understudying leading roles and playing 21 parts in 11 plays, she became somewhat discouraged.
Luckily, she could sing and dance.
“All of a sudden, they were mounting Cyrano: The Musical, and it was going to go to Broadway from the Guthrie,” she recalled, “and I could sing and dance and they gave me 14 lines in a red dress in that show to play the Foodseller. I had one scene along with Christopher Plummer, who played Cyrano, and I started the play and I made my debut at the Palace [Theatre].”
Though the musical was a bit of a flop, her career took off “on those 14 lines in a red dress” because she was seen by an agent. Eighteen months later, her name lit up a marquee as the titular role in Yentl, first off- and then on-Broadway, which earned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress.
Since then, she has played other Tony-nominated roles on stage, such as Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony, as well as on TV in roles such as Deanna Monroe in The Walking Dead — she was recently bitten off, but will appear again in Philadelphia and other cities for the Walker Stalker convention — and the most Jewish of Jewish mothers as Naomi Bunch in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, her very first scene that she physically appears in involves a showstopping number titled “Where’s the Bathroom?” in which she (lovingly) nitpicks everything about daughter Rebecca, from her interior decorations to her appearance.
“I love to sing and dance, and I got this call. They handed me that role on a platter with a five-page solo called ‘Where’s the Bathroom?’ Are you kidding me? Who’d want to pass up an opportunity like that?” she said. “Particularly on the heels of The Walking Dead, which as much as I loved, was a serious, post-apocalyptic drama.”
Plus, the show gives her New York-bleeding heart a chance to relax on the West Coast as Crazy is filmed in California (sing it all together now: West Coviiiina, Califoooornia).
“I’m a New Yorker, first, last and always,” she emphasized, “but I have enjoyed more and more working in different countries and on different coasts.
“As I get older, California is much more in my rhythm, much more than it used to be as a younger person when I didn’t understand it all,” she continued with a laugh. “I was too peppy for that place when I was younger, but now it’s smooth going. If George Clooney comes out of there, how bad could it be? It’s gotta be a good place.”
As she takes on new roles, she is mindful of making choices that make her happy, which sometimes means she turns roles down — usually Jewish roles in off-Broadway productions.
“Been there, done that,” she laughed.
But her Jewish identity has certainly informed her career.
“I was chosen for certain things when I might not have been capable or qualified at all because they figured, ‘If her name is Tovah Feldshuh, playing a part like Yentl the yeshiva boy, she’s got to be right,’ you know?” she said. “So because of the perceived value of my name, I was given these Jewish roles, and because of my desire to do a good job I studied like a dog and I studied very diligently, whether it’s the Talmud and Kabbalah and things that Yentl explored and was curious about, or whether it was Middle East politics, which was Golda Meir’s primogenitor.”
While she acknowledges her breakthrough roles were her Jewish roles and she is grateful for the experiences, she is looking ahead to the future and what she wants to do — and what she is capable of.
Perhaps that includes starring in a television show that she writes or starring in a musical or playing a man. She took on the role of Grandma Berthe in the Broadway revival of Pippin a few years ago, which involved a trapeze act and reminded her of being a little girl, hanging upside down on a swingset.
“When I got to do Pippin, I was 3 years old again. I was back in that time,” she said. “When I see old friends from high school, when I see my husband, I don’t see him completely in 2016, I see him in 2016 and in 1976 when we met. So sometimes that takes will but I want this will. I want to function at this level. I want to stay young, I want to die young — not chronologically, I want to die at 104 — and I want to live, really live, until I pass away, until I leave my body.”
Feldshuh, who swims a half-mile every day in addition to taking time to do pilates and yoga, hopes that audiences who see Aging is Optional feel empowered to live the same way.
“If I can perform an act that deals with the different ways and different pathways into making aging optional, and not an obligation, think what they can do,” she said.
“I want to empower the audience to climb their own Kilimanjaro, to swim their own half-mile, to understand that a lean horse runs a long race,” she continued. “And to stand on their head and keep using their marbles until the day they leave their body. That’s my hope. I want the audience to go away with hope, in maintaining youth throughout their life.”
Tickets can be purchased online at princetheater.org/events/tovah-feldshuh or at the door the day of the performance.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740