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Hamptons Life

Aug 7, 2018 11:35 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Tovah Feldshuh Will Bring Her One-Woman Show On The Queen Of Mean To Guild Hall

Aug 7, 2018 11:35 AM

Tovah Feldshuh is an actress not confined to one form. From television to stage to film and back again, her latest venture finds her playing the Queen of Mean herself, the infamous hotelier Leona Helmsley in a one-woman show titled “Tovah Is Leona!”

“I love doing Leona because she’s so much cheaper than therapy,” Ms. Feldshuh said. “She had real impulse control issues, and it was very interesting.”

Leona Helmsley, born in Marbletown, New York, in 1920, went from a poor household and three failed marriages to a sprawling mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, with Harry Helmsley and running a billion-dollar hotel business.

She met Mr. Helmsley when she was doing well in real estate in the late 1960s and he invited her to work for him—he then divorced his wife of 32 years and married Ms. Helmsley.

“They had a consummate interest that would of course lead to a passionate love affair. They were like souls in a like business, except that she overstepped boundaries and he was a law-abiding citizen,” Ms. Feldshuh said. “Her social boundaries were questionable, but her expertise at doing what she did was not.”

She emphasized Ms. Helmsley’s ability to spot little issues in a bathroom, a garden or the Helmsley Palace, and wring out whoever should have fixed the problems or prevented them from happening. “She would communicate that to her staff. … She would tell them what she wanted, and if they didn’t get it right the first time, it was like a slap in the face. She was in no way ever going to sacrifice her standards.”

The show, however, is a lot more light-hearted. It runs 70 minutes and is about Ms. Helmsley’s hour of freedom from purgatory. She has returned to set the record straight. Ms. Feldshuh calls it, “a look back on her life in order to defend her point of view and get through those pearly gates,” quite literally singing her way out of purgatory.

Ms. Feldshuh gave a taste of the Ms. Helmsley she plays in the show: “Ladies and gentlemen, I find myself caught between music and mercy, between repertoire and redemption, between cabaret and karma, so welcome to the trials of the very salvation of my soul, a day of fun, frolic and foreclosure.”

The show was conceived by Ms. Feldshuh herself and directed by Jeff Harnar with music by James Bossi. She wanted to emphasize that the team created the show all together, and that the show will hopefully get to Broadway.

Throughout the cabaret/musical, she plays not only Ms. Helmsley, but Harry, her mother, Ida, a Southern employee, a German employee, and Leona as an 8-year-old kid. While “Tovah Is Leona!” was conceived as a one-woman show, she hopes it is eventually made into a musical with a larger cast.

Ms. Feldshuh also brought up a connection between Ms. Helmsley and Donald Trump, touching on their relationship. “I’m not going to state my political bias and neither does Leona, but she states her personal bias. She couldn’t stand him, she thought he was a pale imitation of Harry.”

On her own connections to the Queen of Mean, she said the things they have in common are their good hygiene, housekeeping skills, and that they both married their dream guys. Otherwise, they’re not at all similar—the name “Tovah” is a variation of the word “good” in Hebrew, something Leona was certainly not.

Ms. Helmsley was convicted on numerous counts of tax fraud, even getting one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States government. She was turned in by her contractor because she refused to do final payments on house renovations, and that began her palace crumbling around her.

Ms. Feldshuh does, however, think people can relate to Ms. Helmsley on some level. “So what’s similar to Leona that’s similar to all of East Hampton and Southampton and Westhampton and all of the human race? People strive for excellence, and people go to jail for overstepping social bounds and federal and state law. If you’ve ever been pulled over for speeding, you know what it is to go beyond the barrier of what is permitted and to be caught doing it,” she said.

She is excited to bring Ms. Helmsley to audiences at this specific moment in time: “If Paul Manafort can get a trial, Leona can get a retrial.”

Ms. Feldshuh said she is thrilled to be playing at Guild Hall, and she loves doing a one-woman show because she “never gets in any fights with the cast.” She said the show is quick and fun, and encouraged everybody to come see it. “Stay in the shade with Leona instead of the beach with melanoma!”

“Tovah Is Leona!” will play at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Saturday, August 11, at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $45 to $100. Call 631-324-4050 or visit guildhall.org.

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