“Harry saw his name as a signature at the bottom of a contract, and I saw it across the New York skyline,” quips Tovah Feldshuh before belting out one of her favorite numbers in her new cabaret show “Tovah Is Leona!” which comes to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday. The song, aptly titled “No Limits,” was written by lyricist David Lee for the Broadway-bound musical “The Queen of Mean,” named for the sobriquet earned by the uncompromising Helmsley hotel heiress.
The song is one of several from the upcoming full-scale production based on Ransdell Pierson’s unauthorized biography — with book and lyrics written by Alex Lippard and Lee, and music by Ron Passaro — featured in Feldshuh’s one-woman performance. “It’s a great infomercial for the big show,” explains the four-time Tony nominee.
Feldshuh’s cabaret act, which she conceived with Jeff Harner as director and James Bassi as musical director, also includes American classics and even some rap passages. All support a 70-minute plea by the indicted Helmsley to be retried and released from purgatory so that she can join her real-estate billionaire husband in heaven.
However, it is the original song “No Limits” that's a particular favorite of Feldshuh's, as it relates a philosophy of life she admits to sharing with the perfection-seeking, tax-evading hotel empress. “When I do a character, I try to find a path in, and in the area of adventure and travel, I don’t limit myself, ” the 65-year-old actress explains in a phone interview from Siberia, part of a recent trip that also included horse and camel riding in Mongolia and touring parts of Korea.
“My job is to play Leona, not to judge her,” Feldshuh says. “The audience gets to see her virtues and her vices. The show humanizes her. She is Lena Mindy Rosenthal from a nice, hardscrabble Coney Island Jewish family.”
As a performer, Feldshuh, known for a plethora of star turns on both stage (“Pippin,” “Golda’s Balcony”) and television (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “The Walking Dead”), here also knows no limits, adeptly transitioning from one role to another — Leona, Harry, Leona’s mother Ida — with only a single prop change.
But it is clear the multitalented actress is most enthralled with portraying the show's flamboyant if tyrannical, penny-pinching protagonist. “I love playing her,” says Feldshuh of the opportunity to re-create Leona in both her current nightclub act and the forthcoming musical. “To play a character with no impulse control once a night, it’s fabulous, it’s wild.”