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Date: 2008-03-12
author: Rex Reed

In weeks this bad, there's no underestimating the calming value of cabaret. Tovah Feldshuh's master class in versatility at Feinstein's is called "Tovah in a Nutshell." She means it. She's won awards as Tallulah Bankhead, Kate Hepburn and Golda Meir. Now you feel like she's throwing a party in her own family room and you're invited. The night I was there, so was the family. Like a talented kid goaded by her mom to show off, she can do everything. "Dahlink, show Grandma Ada!" "Sweetheart, give 'em Sophie Tucker!" She does, separated by blackouts when she ditches the sequin jacket, pins back the hair, climbs into heels, wraps a scarf around her head-and out come the characters who've lived in her brain, her movies and her life. She's a lonely old man on a retirement pension who doesn't know what to do with himself. She's a Spanish "Miss Subways" whose goal is to solve world hunger while scraping chewing gum off the streets. She's a lockjawed debutante from Greenwich named "Muffy." She's Sylvia Chronic, a depressing radio personality who delivers monologues on how to select the proper casket. She's Molly Kelly Kugelberg, a mixed-up 8-year-old who wants to know: If your mother is a lapsed Catholic and your father is a "cultural Jew," what do you do on Christmas? The stage is small and the atmosphere intimate, but there's plenty of space to showcase the many faces of Tovah. She does bawdy 1922 Sophie Tucker jokes. She sings Gershwin. She reads a poem by E. E. Cummings. The fingers move. The hands move. The legs move. You're impressed. You're exhausted. She's quick, she's funny, she's agile, her talent is so bountiful you forget how petite she is. She gives you your money's worth, at breakneck speed. What she doesn't do is towel off the sweat and give you one minute of the kind of shared intimacy that can break your heart. But what the hell? It's a party. Where are the cupcakes?