In its heyday in the late 1970s, Studio 54 was the best-known, most-notorious nightclub in the world — a venue for drugs, debauchery and disco that attracted the likes of Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol and Liza Minelli.
Now comes Tovah Feldshuh’s “On, Off and Now Under Broadway,” a retrospective of the entertainer’s illustrious career and a tribute to the iconic New York space. Feldshuh’s show will be performed next Thursday and Friday evening in the building’s basement theater, 54 Below, for three performances.
Feldshuh made her Broadway debut in 1973 starring opposite Christopher Plummer in the musical “Cyrano” before going on to star in “Yentl,” “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Golda’s Balcony.” Since the early 1990s, she has also performed cabaret shows all over the world, in addition to her work in film and TV. And she is now preparing to play opposite Jason Alexander in mid-February in a revival of the Richard Rodgers and Martin Charnin musical “Two by Two” at the York Theatre.
In an interview with Jewish Week, Feldshuh said that she frequenting Studio 54 in 1978, when the former opera house and CBS TV studio had been transformed by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. She recalls being impressed their use of Broadway lighting and scenic designers to dazzle a clientele that had just stepped in from dirty, dangerous streets and subways.
After kicking off her show with a song from “Saravá” (one of her first Broadway musicals, based on a Brazilian sex farce), Feldshuh plans to perform a series of numbers about the scrappiness and optimism that was needed to survive in a nearly bankrupt ’70s New York. These include Leonard Bernstein’s “Lucky To Be Me” (from “On the Town”), Craig Carnelia’s “Joe” (about a retired working man), and Dar Williams’ “When I Was a Boy” (about children’s freedom from gender roles).
“It will be a mix and match of older things and a new look at the ’70s,” Feldshuh said. “Studio 54 both reflected and transmogrified its time.” Despite the fact that the cabaret space is underground, Feldshuh called it “standing on golden, shimmering history. It’s such a warm and yummy space.”
Doing cabaret, Feldshuh added, means “showing the audience the love that I bear, which is raw, unbridled and unmasked. It’s an exchange of heart and truth.” She compared doing a cabaret show to Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” in that “you make sure that you put your hook in your delicious fish and don’t let it out until you get to shore.”
“Tovah Feldshuh’s On, Off and Now Under Broadway” runs at 54 Below, 254 W. 54th St., on Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 8 and 9 at 8:30 p.m. For tickets, $35-45 cover charge plus a $25 food and beverage minimum, call (866) 468-7619 or visit www.54below.com.