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What to Watch This Weekend: The Incomparable Tovah Feldshuh as Leona Helmsley

The Diva of Broadway sings her heart out as the Queen of Mean

Liel Leibovitz
July 06, 2018
Courtesy Feinstein's 54 Below
Tovah Feldshuh as Leona HelmsleyCourtesy Feinstein’s 54 Below
Courtesy Feinstein's 54 Below
Tovah Feldshuh as Leona HelmsleyCourtesy Feinstein’s 54 Below

In 2005, Tovah Feldshuh broke the record for the longest-running one-woman show in Broadway’s history with Golda’s Balcony, a moving portrayal of Israel’s former prime minister Golda Meir. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving diva: Feldshuh is among a handful of our greatest living stage actresses, and that she was honored for her embodiment of one of modern Jewish history’s greatest leaders is fitting.

Feldshuh’s back on stage, with another one-woman play, running this weekend only at Feinstein’s 54 Below. This time, she’s bringing to life a far less revered character: Leona Helmsley, the notorious hotelier, known as the Queen of Mean for her cut-throat business dealings.

Doing justice to the sort of woman who bequeaths $12 million to her Maltese is a tall order, but in Tovah is Leona!, Feldshuh delivers another stellar performance. Watch her singing a sultry love song to real estate, for example, and you’ll get not only a moment of great fun, but also an insight into the soul of a woman, Helmsley, who escaped her childhood as an struggling daughter of Jewish immigrants and a dead-end job at a sewing factory by having the passion, the imagination, and the guts to enter the all-male playground of buying and selling buildings in Manhattan. That one of her rivals in this cold-blooded real estate game was another self-promoter who now happens to be president makes the show all the more timely. But, really, as great as the songs are, and as sharp as the one-liners may be, this is Feldshuh’s show, and she is, as always, a pleasure. You can see her tonight and tomorrow only, so get your tickets here. And if you’re not so fortunate, well, may this song make your Shabbat sweeter:

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.